What to Expect from Microsoft in 2011

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Microsoft continues battling on all fronts to remain at the head of the ever-shifting technology field. Communication, virtualization, cloud computing, and enterprise-level collaboration are just a few of the areas where the company has essentially thrown down the gauntlet to its competitors. The upcoming year will see the release of product offerings in a number of key computing sectors, not to mention reported rumors of the imminent release of Windows 8, sometime in 2011-2012. With that in mind, here is an overview of some key Microsoft product developments to look out for in 2011.

Cloud computing

The momentum around cloud services continues to build, though a number of Fortune 500 companies have been slow to adopt the public cloud due to questions around loss of data control and security issues. The Windows Azure Services platform, released in 2010, is Microsoft’s flagship cloud-based product and MS is betting on the new platform to increase the number of enterprise-level converts to the cloud.

As individual cloud competitors continue to innovate, such as Amazon with its Amazon Web Service (AWS), look to Microsoft to move beyond mere Infrastructure-as-a Service (IaaS) to positioning Azure as a Platform-as-a-Service. This will include capabilities that will enable developers to create available, scalable applications.

Additionally, a host of new features for Azure will be rolled out in 2011. These will help bring the platform  into parity with the kind of features found  in Microsoft’s other core platforms. The new features include: Server Application Virtualization, Remote Desktop, support for Windows Server 2008R2 in Web, worker, and VM roles, and full IIS support.

In addition to added developer and administrative features, Microsoft is including a Web-based database query and management tool to SQL Azure. Also, next year look for Office 365 to bring together Microsoft Office, SharePoint Online, Exchange Online, and Lync Online, (each of which will be covered below), into one cloud-based offering.

Virtualization

In the virtualization arena, Microsoft has been battling VMware for quite some time. Microsoft, emphasizing its new cloud strategy, has been quick to reject VMware’s assertion that virtualization is the dominant enterprise solution. In an open letter to VMware customers at this year’s VMworld 2010, Microsoft suggested that standard 3-year VMware contracts would put customers in a bind. It stressed that cloud computing, as the dominant global enterprise solution, was on a fast track to reality, and assured readers that Microsoft would be in the best position to provide the breadth of cloud technology that could meet users’ needs.

But in order to continue battling toe-to-toe in the virtualization arena, Microsoft has been updating its virtualization options for businesses. The company has been busy teaming up with Citrix, another stalwart in the virtualization sector. Look for Microsoft to counter VMware in 2011 with its own security-laden, bare-metal client hypervisor. It will provide clients with the corresponding level of options, capabilities, and control that server-level hyper-visors enjoy.

Communications

Microsoft Lync Server 2010 was touted as a connected experience that would change the nature of communication in the business world. Sound familiar? As the next generation of Office Communication Servers (OCS), Lync manages communication from one UI: instant messaging, voice calls, video, and Web meetings are all easily accessed.

In 2011, Lync Online, the cloud version of Lync will be made available. Users will access Lync as a service and Microsoft will host the servers. Not only will users have access to enterprise IM and audio/video conferencing via the cloud, but PC-to-PC voice capabilities will also come online later in the year.

It’s hard to talk about Microsoft communications without mentioning Exchange 2010 and Outlook 2010. Back when Exchange Server 2007 was first released, Microsoft faced the challenge of a new messaging model. The growth of cloud-based email, most notably Google Gmail, was changing how people and businesses connected. The next version, Exchange Server 2010, provided welcome improvements to some of the shortfalls of the previous version. For example, a much-improved Outlook Web Access Webmail client performed much like its client-based counterpart. Also, interoperability between browsers allowed for user experience consistency.

But in terms of new developments in business interactivity for the upcoming year, Microsoft Dynamics CRM 2011 will be the product to offer notable new features that interact flawlessly with Outlook. The beta version has indicated a crisper user experience utilizing a contextual CRM ribbon with the Outlook interface. It also features versatile dashboard functionality that may be shared by multiple users. In terms of business intelligence, these dashboards offer advanced data visualization and drill-downs for project analysis.

Microsoft Dynamics CRM 2011 promises to be an exceptional component to a number of business collaboration programs. In particular, Microsoft SharePoint Server is a natural bed-fellow. Both products offer complimentary and interlocking features to optimize business interactivity. Moreover, seamless integration between the two products is bundled into CRM.

Collaboration

The release of SharePoint 2010 was virtually a slam-dunk for Microsoft. The company succeeded in updating the product using a deft touch as well as making much-needed tweaks and adjustments. The current, substantial upgrade now provides a diverse range of cloud-related and enterprise deployments. In 2011, look for more effective integration with Microsoft’s FAST search engine as well as with Performance Point, the company’s business intelligence software. Of course, as Microsoft further enhances Silverlight, expect more features to be added throughout the year.

In terms of administrators and public folders, however, more work remains to be done. The migration process of public folders over to SharePoint leaves much to be desired. General assumptions are that Microsoft is aware of deficiencies in this area. Look for 2011 to provide the company with a chance to roll out additional administration features on this point.

In its multi-pronged approach to rallying users to the cloud, Microsoft had originally introduced Office Live Workspace as a direct competitor to Google Documents. With the launch of SkyDrive, the company’s online storage repository, Microsoft renamed the online document suite to Office Web Apps as part of its Windows Live service. This is essentially the free online version of Microsoft Office 2010 with scaled-down versions of the standard applications.

While there is collaboration potential, the applications themselves aren’t nearly as robust as the stand-alone programs, not surprisingly. For example, documents with revision-edits cannot be opened for editing. These kinds of limitations can be major show stoppers for attracting users from other online competitors. In 2011, expect announcements of major revisions that will turn Office Web Apps into a competitive online suite.

Conclusion

Of course, Microsoft is releasing major and minor updates all the time on many fronts. The general consensus is that the company is also moving on every front to lure enterprises, SMBs, and users to the cloud. The company believes it has seen the future, and they have named it global interconnectivity.

With that in mind, look for Microsoft in 2011 to actively promote the idea of companies moving to a hybrid on-premises/cloud infrastructure. This way they can entice organizations to experience the computing freedom of the cloud while maintaining a sense of security and equilibrium with dedicated servers.

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This article was written by Kerry Doyle.

Kerry Doyle (MA, MSr, CPL) writes for a diverse group of companies based in technology, business and higher education. As an educator, former editor at PCComputing, reporter for PCWeek Magazine and Associate Editor at ZDNet.com, he has written extensively on high tech issues for over 15 years. His articles have appeared in a range of technology and industry publications. He specializes in computing trends vital to SMBs and enterprises alike, from virtualization and cloud computing to disaster recovery and network storage.

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