Changing of the Guard
The enterprise has historically been a Microsoft shop, with Microsoft machines, Microsoft back office infrastructure, and Windows-based applications dominating the space. From the Windows operating system, Microsoft Office productivity suite, email infrastructure with Exchange, Active Directory for directory services, and Windows Server, if it was technology in a business, Microsoft made it. However, this set up in the enterprise is quickly diminishing. Back during Microsoft’s peak in the enterprise, they owned nearly 97% of the computing-device market share. This number speaks volumes to the control they had over the office. Now, that number is much smaller. As of 2012, Microsoft only owned 20% of the computing-device market share, demonstrating how far removed from the Microsoft-centric business landscape we are [Forbes]. This dramatic change is the result of companies like Apple, Amazon, and Google challenging the Microsoft monopoly with Macs, iPhones, iPads, Chromebooks, Android phones AWS, G Suite, and more. These major companies have put a significant dent in the Microsoft market share, and have paved the way for many other organizations to do the same. The resounding message has become pretty clear: enterprise organizations no longer need to be reliant on Microsoft.
With a plethora of companies all competing to be the new replacement to Microsoft, it can be tough to see what even the current IT environment looks like. As a directory services company that focuses on connecting users to both cloud and on-prem IT resources, we thought that we would describe the modern enterprise’s infrastructure in order to help out. Once that is laid out, questions about managing this type of network become a little easier. The modern enterprise doesn’t necessarily mean everything is ‘all cloud’ running on mobile phones. There is a much simpler definition of what it looks like. The best organizations are leveraging the most appropriate and best-of-breed technology to accomplish their goals. That can mean a wide variety of different solutions. Below, we’ll describe a common modern office scenario that we see.
We see a mix of different platforms for the modern IT infrastructure. As discussed above, Linux laptops and desktops have become quite popular in the development and technical ranks, given their flexibility and the means by which the developer can customize the OS for their needs. On top of that, end users have gravitated to Apple as their device of choice, for both mobile and workstation use. We are continually witnessing organizations arise that are primarily Apple-centric.
As it relates to mobile devices, many IT organizations also require some level of governance or control over their end user’s mobile phones and tablets. In most cases, these devices are personally owned (not corporate owned), and they need to be able to access corporate email accounts and other applications. Again, this is almost exclusively dominated by Apple and Google/Android with little Microsoft involvement.
Modern IT organizations are simply not building data centers any longer.
There are some rare exceptions to this rule, like when companies have very specific requirements about running server-based infrastructure (think ad-tech or big-data computing needs). But everyone else? They‘re leveraging cloud infrastructure platforms such Amazon Web Services (AWS), Google Cloud Platform, or other Infrastructure-as-a-Service (IaaS) providers.
Microsoft has entered the fray of cloud infrastructure with Azure, but all of the IaaS providers are lagging well behind AWS. As an analog, while Google and Apple were combating Microsoft in the enterprise for productivity tools and OS domination respectively, AWS was silently morphing their book-selling monopoly into a cloud-computing monopoly. AWS became, and primarily is, the ‘data center’. This transformation spawned a new generation of IT professionals we now know as DevOps.
IaaS platforms such as AWS are now adding in a large number of services that sit on top of the compute and storage platforms. These services exist for databases, networking, management, and much more, and they greatly reduce the amount of work and software that IT organizations need to build and manage.
In a sense, modern IT admins are managing the building blocks instead of building those components. This enables them to focus more on their core applications or services that they are providing, and less on the components that aren’t unique or meaningful to their organization’s approach or solution.
The IT infrastructure is meant to enable end users to do their jobs faster, better, and with more impact. Microsoft was, and in many cases remains, the master of this model: ecosystem products that plug-and-play seamlessly between products in their IT suite. This was most exemplified with their Office suite of software (including Word, Excel, and PowerPoint primarily), and their email collaboration suite (including Outlook and the client-end application). These Microsoft tools provided the key applications that end users needed to accomplish much of their jobs, the mainstay of which were to communicate ideas. Office went on to be one of the most important Microsoft solutions in their portfolio.
This solution soon came under fire as Google began to attack this monopoly in what was originally viewed as a benign approach. As previously mentioned, Google could take a calculated ‘long view’ against Microsoft in this regard. They were generating billions of dollars in cash in their search advertising line of business, effectively subsidising a slow-growth/non-frontal assault on the Microsoft franchise of owning employee productivity.
Google was able to convert their consumer-focused email service, GMail, to be a business-focused product, and then wrapped basic productivity tools such as word processing, spreadsheets, and presentation software into the bundle. This service became known as Google Apps (now called G Suite). Early on, the solution was viewed as weak and a cheap knock-off of Office. However, as many small to medium sized businesses started to adopt the solution and utilize many of its unique features, such as real-time document collaboration (something that was not possible in Microsoft solutions at the time), the vision was seen by many and these cloud-based solutions started to become a major threat to Microsoft.
Microsoft felt this pain from many vectors: Google, Apple, and the cloud itself. It needed to respond. They unveiled their cloud-based alternative to Google, and their own client-installed versions of their Office suite, with a service called Office 365. While the O365 platform was extremely well received, by that point a lot of the damage was already done. G Suite had established their position in the market, and to this day still have over 3 million businesses using their productivity platform [TechCrunch]. On top of that, with the rise in popularity of non-Microsoft systems, going with solutions that didn’t cause reliance on Microsoft became an attractive option for IT organizations. As a result, the G Suite platform has become the most prominent alternative to Microsoft and their Office 365 productivity platform.
Modern organizations are extensively leveraging web applications. Today, there are specific applications for just about any business task that needs to be accomplished. These tools are meant to support and help business professionals with their jobs though more efficiency, better UI, and ‘available anywhere/anytime’ delivery, while reducing the strain on IT teams to adopt, manage, and sustain applications on premises and on their employees computing devices.
Historically, these applications would have required on-prem servers, and because software resources often have been cost prohibitive, end users would usually end up finding alternate, less-efficient methods to accomplish their jobs in the absence of the app.
These web applications, which have replaced their on-prem ancestors, are now delivered as cost-effective SaaS solutions. Organizations can pay for what they need, and often have the flexibility to switch providers or change solutions if it isn’t meeting their needs at the end of the month. The purchasing models have radically changed as well, shifting away from long-term or annual contracts in favor of monthly or even pay for what you use billing cycles. These sales cycles now have customer service reps, or automated systems that only require digital transactions to acquire web-apps for large swaths of a company’s employees. The concept of best-of-breed solutions is a core philosophy for modern organizations. Rather than choosing a suite or a legacy provider, end users and IT can search for the best solutions for their needs. Often, even if things don’t work out, the switching costs of web applications is reasonably small, both financially and in the work of moving to the new solution itself.
WiFi has been one of the most profound changes for organizations. Previously, the internal network consisted of physically immobile workstations connected with ethernet and switches. End users would be fixed to a desk, their cubicle, or required to plug into a port to gain network and Internet connectivity. It was limiting, but at the time, mobility was not ubiquitous. Laptops were a rare device, often times only owned by sales professionals and executives who traveled outside their brick and mortar offices.
Over the last decade, WiFi and the rapid growth of laptops (primarily Apple, Lenovo, and Dell driving the market) has dramatically changed how organizations function. No longer are end users required to be connected to a wall outlet. They are free to work from wherever there is WiFi connectivity. This flexibility allows teams to meet in more conducive environments to productivity and creativity.
There has also been a corresponding decrease in cost for IT. Cabling an office is expensive, and the cost of acquiring LAN switches is often cost prohibitive as well. WiFi access points on the other hand are relatively inexpensive, and they can serve a large numbers of employees. While there are many benefits to the WiFi network, IT admins are still challenged on how to best secure the network as the model to identify and provide access to the network for employees substantially deviates from the historic Microsoft/LAN access model.
Historically, storage systems existed as on-premise servers or appliances. Microsoft Windows Server has acted as the leading role among the sea of vendors, primarily due to its deep integration with the Microsoft stack, it’s role-based access, and authentication integration with Active Directory. The complication was that IT admins were forced to acquire and manage equipment on-premises, allocating physical space, power, cooling, and networking to the LAN and outside-office employees. Further, the need to calculate disc allocation to account for redundancy and growth required careful financial budgeting due to the escalating storage requirements.
One of the earliest internet-based services that was conceived and primarily driven by Amazon through their ‘elastic computing’ platform was cloud file storage. This system drove the concept of ‘serverless’ computing: virtualized storage that required zero hardware, and along with it zero maintenance or upkeep. Parallel with cloud-based storage, organizations could also purchase cost-effective network attached storage systems (NAS) for local use cases or even leverage the open source Samba file servers. These NAS systems also provided cost effective options for specific use-cases, such as employee’s ‘home directories’, once mounted on expensive Windows Server instances.
Today, modern IT organizations have their pick of storage approaches depending upon their requirements. On-prem, cloud, or hybrid are all viable approaches to managing modern storage requirements.
While the world is moving everything that they can to the cloud, it’s important to remember that not all resources make sense to be in the cloud. In fact, many technical resources commonly used by engineering and DevOps teams require ownership on-prem, or at a minimum need to be installed and managed within their infrastructure. Applications such as the Atlassian suite (e.g. Jira and Confluence) and stacks like Jenkins, Docker, and many others are also self-managed in these modern IT organizations. Many of these resources – especially on the technical side – are hosted in Linux platforms, which these IT and DevOps teams are extremely intimate with personally managing. Interestingly, it is not uncommon for these teams to have very little Microsoft-stack experience. In fact, when looking at cloud server environments, Linux distributions combined are immensely more popular with over 10x as many users as Microsoft [The Cloud Market, 2017]. Many of these teams are personally computing on Ubuntu, or connecting their remote desktop to a Linux VM to write bash or shell. With zero Microsoft in any of that interaction, Microsoft experience has slipped through the cracks.
IT and DevOps organizations will now typically spin up their own Linux infrastructure in their cloud provider (a.g. AWS or Google Cloud Platform), and then install, customize, and manage solutions that are mission critical to their success from there. As an example, continuous integration and continuous deployment (CICD) solution stacks will be spun up, configured, and networked to communicate from their cloud-based server to on-premise resources (e.g. local build boxes) representing a hybrid (cloud and on-prem) configuration. IT and development organizations need to account for these situations when choosing their best-of-breed solutions.
Managing the Microsoft-less Enterprise
Now that we’ve gone through some of the common pieces in a modern office, it’s clear to see that IT is moving away from all things Microsoft. Having a setup like the one demonstrated above enables organizations to be fast, mobile, and lightweight. These traits are essential to thriving companies, and those who adopt them are seeing the results. The industry is trending towards the cloud. You can see more on why Microsoft is being removed from IT in our white paper “How Microsoft Lost Touch with Modern IT.”
With a better picture of modern IT in mind, the next logical question to ask is how can we manage this environment? As most IT admins know, it is no easy feat. Setting up an environment that can handle all of the different parts often takes an incredible amount of time. Trying to do it with a legacy solution like Microsoft Active Directory makes it even harder. Fortunately, through the next generation of directories, there is a new solution that makes it easy. JumpCloud’s Directory-as-a-Service®. Learn more about this solution in our white paper “Managing the Modern IT Environment.”