By: Ben Weiss
In a recent Redmond Magazine article, Microsoft-centric blogger MaryJo Foley describes a tangled web of issues for technical professionals who focus on Microsoft products to make their living.
And on the server side of the house, Foley writes that many IT pros “feel their choice is to go with the Microsoft cloud... or else.” She explains the pricing of Microsoft’s cloud solution Azure provides strong incentive for enterprises to dump applications and data into the cloud while execs are starting to sing the tune that “everything Microsoft is building in the enterprise space powers Windows Azure.” Moreover, last year’s Exchange 2013 release was underwhelming with market adoption, slowing business for on-premise consultants who migrate mailboxes from one version to the next.
While Foley ultimately taps Windows Azure Architect Mark Russinovich who explains there is still a decade or more until the cloud transition is solidified, on-premise consultants are likely wondering how to stay viable in such a tenuous landscape.
With that in mind, Infusive sat down with 7-time Microsoft Exchange MVP Jason Sherry – a passionate Microsoft Infrastructure Architect and Professional Services Consultant - to explain how he’s seeing this issue play out in the field and four pieces of technology he’s skilling up with to keep himself a valuable player in the Windows infrastructure business.
Note: All the content below was stated by Sherry in a phone interview with Infusive.
Cloud (Office 365):
The biggest one especially for consultants who focus on small and medium enterprises is picking up cloud skills, mainly Office 365, Microsoft’s solution for hosted email (Exchange), web collaboration (SharePoint), IM & presents (Lync). While you can’t beat the price point, where it falls short is supportability; everyone complains about that. That's where third parties who offer hosted services come in because while they cost more, the service should be superior since they should be focusing on provide a "white glove" experience to their client's vs. being one of the millions on Office 365.
So my recommendation for anyone looking to get into Exchange is learning the web technologies; migrating from on-premise to Office 365 using Microsoft tools, various 3rd party, or tools you might even create yourself.
Exchange is becoming more commoditized with Office 365, which also commoditized SharePoint to an extent. But, SharePoint is somewhat limited with functionality [in the cloud] and can’t be customized, branded and added to with the same effectiveness as on-site installation.
So SharePoint, at least for the short term future, will be more viable to stay on-premise versus being outsourced to the cloud for especially medium and larger companies who want to really customize SharePoint and implement third-party add ons.
In addition, SharePoint is a very complex product with infrastructure, web applications, data connections, workflows … there’s about a dozen different solutions under the “SharePoint” umbrella. That means a lot of different areas in which you could become a SharePoint consultant. And [from a talent perspective] it's very hard to find a SharePoint consultant, whereas on the Exchange side, Exchange has been out there long enough with a very high market penetration that there are a lot of people out there with some level of Exchange skills.
SharePoint is also commonly used as an internal enterprise web portal (document management, workflows and more complex proprietary applications) while there isn’t as much customization with Exchange behind the scenes.
So for an on-premise consultant (or really any consultant) SharePoint has more longevity for being an on-premise product.
Similar to SharePoint, Identity Management has to be customized based on the requirements of the company since it’s mainly just a framework … you can’t just install Identity Management, set it up and start synchronizing directories. You have to set up rules and possibly create connectors to directories that don't have an included connector. Even for the included connectors, coding is required to adjust how attribute values flow across various directories in most cases.
So Identity Management has a lot of customization needed and there’s workflows you have to build around. If someone gets hired, they might get entry into PeopleSoft but does that automatically mean they get a mailbox or whatever other accounts are used for business applications? So this workflow has to be defined, many times in IdM code and not in a GUI.
That’s when you have to define workflows in Identity Management, either making it automated or based on a custom user response.
All that workflow and the code to make the workflow function has to be developed and that really needs to be done in-house. The development can be outsourced but the IdM solution that does the work has to be in-house, on-premise in most cases because those directories don’t have an Internet connection or Internet friendly protocol that can be controlled from the cloud.
So, aside from a few exceptions, Identity Management solutions really need to be on-premise because if it needs to talk to a proprietary database, there the company probably won’t be a also develop a web services front end for that solution as it may be running on Unix, which doesn’t have a web services front end. That means making it web friendly may be outside the scope of what’s realistic to just get directory data synchronizing, so classic C++, C+, VB.NET, etc. coding will be required just to get directory data flowing.
If you don’t have virtualization skills, you really have to pick some up. Hyper-V is a good one because it’s essentially free with Microsoft server licenses. Most companies are still running VMWare so having the skill set to manage a virtual farm is going to be essential on top of the fundamentals. The nice thing about virtualization is it’s not going away anywhere anytime soon.
You can host your email and your web portal in the cloud but you’re still going to have to have some physical servers on site for a period of time. They can all be virtualized very easily so having the skills to complete those tasks is another big one.
About Infusive Solutions:
Infusive Solutions is a specialized IT recruitment firm based in Manhattan focused on developing software development, support, database and Windows architecture careers in New York City and the rest of the Tri-state area.