Conversations about migrating to Windows 8 and Windows Server 2012 tend to focus on hardware, but a trip to the cloud may be the secret to a smooth transition. Two clouds in particular -- Azure and Office 365 -- might be the key to a successful move to the latest versions of Microsoft Windows.
Microsoft Azure is a cloud, but Microsoft is working to make it more. In fact, the company wants to make Azure a complete application-building ecosystem, and the latest iteration of the cloud service comes quite close to making that vision a reality. A service, a set of developer tools, and the various bits of glue and kit to hold them all together, Azure will allow IT departments to build web-facing applications that bring together Windows systems with Linux backends for a unified whole with a brave new interface.
In many ways, "Linux" is the surprising and important part of that sentence. It's to be expected that a service from Microsoft will be the bee's knees when it comes to developing applications around a Windows Server foundation, but in allowing both Windows Server and Linux components, Azure becomes an important tool for migrating from one operating system to another. The capability is important, but the pricing is what makes Azure an attractive option -- and the pricing couldn't be simpler.
Unlike many cloud competitors, Microsoft charges the same fee for setting up a server whether it is running on Linux or Windows. Customers have their choice of most of the popular Linux distros, and (this is important) both Windows Server 2012 and Windows Server 2008 R2 are options. This range of possibilities makes Azure a reasonable tool for building the bridging components between new and old pieces of infrastructure. It also makes Azure a working solution for organizations that need to sandbox solutions or provide temporary bridging options during a period of migration from one operating system to another or from one version of Windows to another.
Microsoft Office 365 is many things in different configurations, but most of those options include the ability to share Office documents between users who might or might not be using the same version of Windows or Office. Whether the client computer is running Windows XP, Vista 7, or 8; whether it has the latest version of Office or not; whether the system is running IE, Firefox, Safari, or Chrome; or whether the version of Office the company uses has been sold in the last five years or not, the client system can reach Office 365 and build and share documents. Clients also can share schedule and email messages to bring the organization together while the backend systems are being created in whatever target configuration the organization ultimately chooses.
There has been a great deal of discussion about whether cloud computing is appropriate for an enterprise deployment. In the case of Azure and Microsoft Office 365, clouds can be the basis of a smooth and cost-effective migration plan, but only if you look at where you're going and create the right roadmap to get there. Is a cloud part of your Windows migration plan? If not, perhaps it's time to take a step back and engage in some cloudy thinking for the new year.