Cloud computing is still in its early days. “But how you implement your Windows 7 migration today will be key to your ability to take advantage of cloud services in the future,” says Martin Ingram, vice president of strategy at AppSense.
The cloud has taken enterprise by storm. Where once it was a mere software option, cloud computing is now the thunderhead behind a massive front of change in the C-level stratosphere. The high-pressure systems pushing the cloud’s prominence are simple: cheaper IT costs and faster implementation. But to move a global enterprise from an earthy architecture to a less encumbered heavenly state of IT, a protective transition is in order. Enter perhaps the biggest surprise of this monsoon season: Windows 7.
“You could perhaps view Windows 7 as a transitional and evolutionary OS, compared to the revolutionary approach of Google Apps,” says Ahmad Sinno, president of Cedar Consulting. “Maybe see [Windows 7] as a first step towards true cloud computing.”
Indeed, in many ways, Windows 7 can be crucial to moving up to the cloud.
“Cloud is still in the early days but how you implement your Windows 7 migration today will be key to your ability to take advantage of cloud services in the future,” says Martin Ingram, vice president of strategy at for user environment management company AppSense.
“The investments that organizations are making in moving to desktop virtualization and user environment management in their Windows 7 migrations will achieve savings in the short term which only increase as more applications are delivered from the cloud,” adds Ingram.
Why Windows 7 is So Cloud-friendly
“Knowing that server virtualization is the foundation of cloud services, Microsoft has positioned themselves very well by making sure Windows 7 does a better job allowing virtualization to be extended to the desktop on an enterprise scale,” says Don Ryan, managing director of Chadwick Martin Bailey’s Technology Practice.
Ryan expects that desktop use to further drive resource sharing and the flexibility on which cloud computing depends. “While desktop virtualization is still in the early stages,” he says, “I think it’s possible it will have as large of an impact on overall IT architecture as server virtualization has had in the last two years.”
Seeing the Cloud through Azure and Windows 7
Is this to say that Windows 7 is Microsoft’s operating system for cloud computing? No. Azure is Microsoft’s Cloud OS. Azure coupled with Microsoft’s Business Productivity Online Suite (BPOS) makes it easy for you and your users to access applications such as Microsoft Exchange, SharePoint, Microsoft Dynamics CRM, SQL Server, and Word on the cloud. However, Windows 7 has a clear and differentiating role nonetheless.
“Microsoft, with its Azure platform, has adopted an approach to cloud computing that benefits from having fully featured execution environment on the client side,” explains Rich Wolski, professor of Computer Science at UC Santa Barbara and founder of Eucalyptus Systems, a pioneer in the cloud environment. “This approach stands in contrast with the approach taken by Amazon.com and, to some extent Google, both of which rely more heavily on ‘standard’ or ‘classic’ web service interfaces.”
In comparison, says Wolski, Microsoft’s approach is promising in that it potentially allows for a more seamless interaction between the cloud and the client-side software acting on behalf of its user interacting with the cloud.
“Whether this ‘higher level’ interaction between cloud platform and client-side software provides a significant advantage is an open question, but from an architectural perspective it is clearly differentiating,” Wolski says.
One way that Microsoft can leverage the advantages of its approach is to develop client-side software that is specifically designed to leverage its back-end cloud services. Much of what the company has announced for Azure revolves around enhancements to its .NET Framework, which is designed to run over any of the modern Microsoft operating systems. A user wishing to make heavy or exclusive use of the cloud, however, may not require all of the functionality that previous versions of Windows support.
“Windows 7, then, represents a more focused and potentially ‘lighter weight’ operating system for hosting the client-side components of Azure,” explains Wolski.
“It would be going a little too far to think of Windows 7 as a ‘thin OS’ for the client side as its development appears to be motivated by several factors, only one of which is to enable more flexible and integrated cloud access,” he says. “Still, because it sheds much of the Microsoft backwards compatibility issues it can become a more integrated component for Microsoft’s future cloud offerings.”
How Windows 7 Wings its way to Cloud-dom
Make no mistake: The cloud, in theory, requires no operating system at all.
“In a purist sense, if everything is on the cloud, than you really don’t need a workstation OS, Windows 7 or otherwise,” explains Cedar Consulting’s Sinno. “All you’d need is a browser.”
In today’s reality, however, everything isn’t in the cloud and it will probably never be truly saturated. Some things will likely stay rooted on the client side of computing.
Several functions within the Windows 7 operating system make it very friendly to use the cloud, such as a streamlined user interface – for example, on credential handling – and in its Web security measures, according to Doug Miller, CDW Microsoft Solution Architect. “Microsoft went above and beyond what most operating systems provide, including biometrics, card authentication, secure logins and passwords, and so forth.”
This has eased some fears and allowed IT departments and end users to fully access public or private clouds. “The blurring of lines between the cloud and a business’s private infrastructure has created a scenario where users push both the private and public cloud to the point where they can’t tell the difference between the two,” says Miller.
Windows 7 aids enterprises in both cloud and private infrastructure endeavors and, thus, in straddling the blurred line between the two.
Securing the Cloud
The one thing curtailing the migration to the Cloud is security concerns. Windows 7 is designed to help address these very valid issues as well.
“The guts of the Windows 7 operating system makes it much more suitable for use on the Internet due to the stronger security architecture compared to Windows XP,” says Philip Lieberman, president of Lieberman Software Corporation. “From the point of view of developing secure corporate applications, Windows 7 is a mandatory upgrade, in my opinion, if security and reliability are critical.”
The new security APIs in the operating system and improved authentication technology support advanced authentication and delegation capabilities critical to companies in the next ten years, Lieberman says. “Essentially, the plumbing necessary to build and deploy secure cloud-based applications is built into Windows 7, whereas in XP it has to be done as a ‘roll-your-own’ process using add-on software.”
The promise of cloud computing is that even the weakest client can gain universal access to low cost and powerful computing. “As long as a machine is being used for a single purpose, such as running the cloud application, the mission is fulfilled. On the other hand, if you are interested in allowing access to the whole Internet with more confidence and also in building secure applications, Windows 7 provides a more secure architecture to build from compared to its predecessors,” says Lieberman.
Windows 7: the Next ‘Cloud Access Client’
“Windows 7 is designed to support Microsoft’s Software+ Services (S+S) cloud model,” says Yinal Ozkan, vice president and principal architect at Integralis, a managed security and risk management solutions provider. “Windows 7 can be the next cloud access client.”
“Microsoft is offering other necessary steps to move customers to private clouds,” says Ozkan. “On the next level, Windows 7 natively supports terminal services – Remote Desktop Services (RDS) and the desktop virtualization – Virtual Desktop Infrastructure (VDI).”
Three Tips to Turn Windows 7 into Cloud Rainmaker
Doug Miller, CDW Microsoft solution architect, says there are three key steps to maximizing Windows 7 in a cloud environment:
- Take advantage of Windows 7’s Credential Manager function and its Direct Access capabilities, both of which blur the line between cloud and non-cloud operations.
- Use functions that aren’t necessarily specific to Windows 7, such as the secure, “privacy mode” setting in Internet Explorer 8 (IE8).
- Finally, be patient. While Windows 7 wasn’t built only for the cloud, Microsoft is focused on simplifying the use of cloud applications within its client operating systems.
Internet Explorer 8 (IE8) as Master Cloud Rider
There have been reports that IE8, which is installed with the new Windows 7 operating system, isn’t yet compatible with some cloud services or applications.
“Internet Explorer 8 is designed to help exploit next-generation Web content, but sometimes those advancements are ahead of where some content currently is,” says Miller. “The good news is that Microsoft provides a number of bridging technologies that mitigate these issues: Internet Explorer Compatibility Mode and XP Mode (or Med-V for the Enterprise).”
Compatibility Mode is a function that allows Internet Explorer 8 to render Web pages the way Internet Explorer 7 does.
XP Mode enables users to run the XP operating system in the ‘background’ of Windows 7, so that systems with Internet 8 compatibility issues can run seamlessly for uninterrupted viewing and browsing through Internet Explorer 7 on the desktop.
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