What’s New in 2012 R2: Service Provider & Tenant IaaS Experience

I recently had an opportunity to speak with a number of leaders from the former VMWare User Group (VMUG), and it was an incredibly educational experience. I say “former” because many of the VMUG user group chapters are updating their focus/charter and are renaming themselves the Virtual Technology User Group (VTUG). This change is a direct result of how they see market share and industry momentum moving to solutions like the consistent clouds developed by Microsoft.
In a recent follow up conversation with these leaders, I asked them to describe some common topics they hear discussed in their meetings. One of the leaders commented that the community is saying something really specific: “If you want to have job security and a high paying job for the next 10 years, you better be on your way to becoming an expert in the Microsoft clouds. That is where this industry is going.” 
When I look at what is delivered in these R2 releases, the innovation is just staggering. This industry-leading innovation – the types of technical advances that VTUG groups are confidently betting on – is really exciting.
With this innovation in mind, in today’s post I want to discuss some of the work we are doing around the user experience for the teams creating the services that are offered, and I want to examine the experience that can be offered to the consumer of the cloud (i.e. the tenants). While we were developing R2, we spent a lot of time ensuring that we truly understood exactly who would be using our solutions. We exhaustively researched their needs, their motivations, and how various IT users and IT teams relate to each other. This process was incredibly important because these individuals and teams all have very different needs – and we were committed to supporting all of them.
The R2 wave of products have been built with this understanding.  The IT teams actually building and operating a cloud(s) have very different needs than individuals who are consuming the cloud (tenants).  The experience for the infrastructure teams will focus on just that – the infrastructure; the experience for the tenants will focus on the applications/ services and their seamless operation and maintenance.
In yesterday’s post we focused heavily on the innovations in these R2 releases in the infrastructure – storage, network, and compute – and, in this post, Erin Chapple, a Partner Group Program Manager in the Windows Server & System Center team, will provide an in-depth look at Service Provider and Tenant experience and innovations with Windows Server 2012 R2, System Center 2012 R2, and the new features in Windows Azure Pack.
As always in this series, check out the “Next Steps” at the bottom of this post for links to a variety of engineering content with hyper-technical overviews of the concepts examined in this post.  Also, if you haven’t started your own evaluation of the 2012 R2 previews, visit the TechNet Evaluation Center and take a test drive today!
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Delightful Experiences

We focus on delivering the best infrastructure possible in order to provide delightful experiences to our customers. The two work hand-in-hand: The right infrastructure enables key customer-facing scenarios, and the focus on the experience ensures that customers can get the most out of their infrastructure investments.
In this release, we focused on two core personas: the Service Provider who is responsible for deploying and operating the IaaS, and the tenant (or consumer) who consumes those services provided by the Service Provider.

Service Provider Experience

With Windows Server 2012, System Center 2012 SP1, and Windows Azure Pack v1, we established the foundation for IaaS: A self-service portal on top of resource pools. To determine which enhancements were necessary for the R2 wave, we spent time with customers (ranging from enterprises to Service Providers, to groups within Microsoft responsible for IaaS-type services) to better understand what they needed in order to deliver an end-to-end IaaS experience. Three main pieces of feedback emerged:
  1. A self-service experience is critical to deliver rich end-to-end IaaS.
    A rich self-service experience is not only for tenant customers – it is equally important for Service administrators. With the previous release, our self-service experience allowed Service administrators to create and manage Plans, and tenant administrators could manage their subscriptions to those Plans. In the 2012 R2 release, we include new capabilities to provide a much richer experience. One new feature, is called Plan add-ons, allows the administrator to upsell value-added services to subscribers’ existing plans. Another feature is the Virtual Machine Role, which allows the administrators to create Virtual Machine templates (a tier of VMs that behave as a singleton). These templates can be deployed in a consistent manner across private, hosted, and Windows Azure public clouds. Another feature enables providers to offer their enterprise tenants the ability to extend and stretch their network to the provider-hosted clouds. These features and others combine to deliver rich IaaS capabilities in the R2 release.
  2. Metering tenant resource usage is essential in a cloud business model.
    The cloud business model requires providers to track tenant resource utilization and be able to bill or charge only for what was used by the tenant. Furthermore, the primary attraction of the cloud is its elasticity – tracking usage consumption in an elastic environment requires the providers to process large volumes of data and pivot on the correct values, to be able to successfully monetize their services. In our conversations with customers and providers, they clearly expressed the need for rich metering capability along with analytics covering that metered usage. In the 2012 R2 release, we provide two distinct capabilities in response to this feedback. To begin with, there is a REST Usage API, which provides resource utilization data at 15 minute granularity fidelity for each subscription. Providers use this API to extract utilization data and integrate the data feed with their own billing system in order to create the billing reports that are relevant for their business needs. In addition to the Usage API, we also provide Usage Reports in Excel that provide analytics and trending information. This is very useful for capacity planning based on resource consumption trends, and it allows the Service Provider to perform capacity forecasting – which is yet another core customer-driven innovation.
  3. Reduce COGS by using automation and by leveraging existing investments.
    COGS cannot be minimized by reducing CapEx costs alone. It is just as important to enable Service Administrators to maximize utilization of their existing processes and systems along with other resources (in other words, make what they have work even better), and reduce the need to have fragmented provisioning and operating process across their data centers. As we looked into how our Service Administrator customers can continue to reduce COGS and streamline their operations, the need to continue our investments in automation and integration scenarios became abundantly clear. In today’s data centers, Windows PowerShell is the framework for IT coordination of infrastructure task management. To address this directly, in 2012 R2 we have extended automation capabilities by enabling the construction of complex automation workflows, and we have ensured that all the activities inside the data center can be expressed using PowerShell constructs.
These learnings helped crystallize our core customer vision for the Service Provider in the 2012 R2 release:
Enable Service Providers with a rich IaaS platform that seamlessly integrates with existing systems and processes within the datacenter and has rich self-service experiences while having the lowest COGS.
This vision defined the key scenario areas we targeted:
  • Managing provider offers and tenant subscriptions   
  • Customizing self-service experience for tenants
  • Automation for creating efficient, policy driven and consistent process for Service Providers
  • Tenant resource usage, billing and analytics

Scenario 1: Managing Provider Offers and Tenant Subscriptions

Success for a Service Provider business largely hinges on the ability to attract and retain tenants. It therefore falls to the Service Provider to think about how to use service offerings to attract tenants; to consider different tactics for differentiation, as well as ongoing efforts like upselling and retention to maintain healthy tenant accounts. To help Service Providers meet these challenges, we have invested in key enhancements to the service management experience targeting these specific areas:
  • Use value-based offers to attract tenants and drive new subscriptions.
  • Offer differentiation and upsell to drive more consumption.
  • Manage tenant accounts and subscriptions.

Use value-based offers to attract and retain tenants

Service Providers can build bundles of many different service offers, which are often called “Plans.” Plans include various services that can be assembled together in order to create subscriber-specific value offerings. Tenants then consume an offer by subscribing to a plan. In a very general sense, a cloud is nothing more to the consumer (in this case, the tenant) than a set of capabilities (services) at some capacity (quotas). When a service provider creates offers, they need to know what types of workloads customers want (which services to include) and how they will be consumed – as well as some basic intuition about the consumption habits of their tenants (how much will they need, and how fast will that change, etc.).
We designed an easy-to-use experience for creating offers, selecting the kinds of services or capabilities to include, and setting the quotas to control how much can be consumed by any single subscription. But, obviously, it goes beyond a simple set of compute, storage, and networking capabilities at some quota amount. One of the most important aspects of offer construction is the process of including library content to facilitate simplified application development. For that reason, the offer construction experience also features a way to include templates for foundational VM configurations and workloads.

Use differentiation to induce more (high-value) usage

Armed with the ability to attract tenants to the service through precise service offerings, the Service Provider now needs a way to focus on the quality of the tenant experience. This can be either for the purpose of driving margin growth (in the case of pubic hosting), or customer satisfaction initiatives (public or private), or both. To achieve this, we introduced the concept of an add-on that gives the service provider a more precise mechanism for exposing offers. Plan add-ons are usually targeted at specific plans or tenants, and they are used to drive up-sell opportunities. For example, Service Providers can create a plan add-on called “Peak Threshold Quota Expansion” that can be targeted towards subscribers who show seasonality in their consumption patterns.

Manage accounts & subscriptions

Lastly, Service Providers need a way to manage the accounts and subscriptions of their tenants. The motivations for direct management of accounts and subscriptions can vary from white-glove service, to loyalty programs, and rewards to account health/delinquency, and the need to maintain health of the shared environment for all tenants.
The features for Service Providers are high-level, but provide comprehensive capabilities to cover a variety of scenarios, including:
  • Accounts: Create, suspend, delete, reset password.
  • Subscriptions: Create, add/remove co-administrators, suspend, migrate, delete.
  • Add-ons: Create, associate/remove, delete.

Scenario 2: Customizing Self-Service Experience for Tenants

One of the design goals of the R2 release is to provide a consistent experience for tenants across private, hosted and Windows Azure public clouds. As part of the new Web Sites and Virtual Machines service offerings in Windows Azure, we launched a modern, web standards-based, device-friendly web portal for our Windows Azure customers. The Windows Azure portal has received rave reviews and has dramatically eased the manageability of the cloud services. We heard from our customers that they would like the similar capabilities in the Windows Azure Pack portal, which allows them to change the various visual elements such as colors, fonts, images, and logos. They also wanted the portal to enable them to add new services that would help them differentiate, while staying consistent with the overall experience.
In the R2 release, the same great experience in Windows Azure is now available on Windows Server for our customers through Windows Azure Pack. This Self-Service Tenant Portal has been designed with the following capabilities.
  • Customizable Service Provider portal experience
  • Customer-approved branding and theming experiences
  • Ability to add new services
  • Ability to differentiate
While these capabilities offer a great in-the-box experience that is consistent with Windows Azure, all these capabilities are also available through an API for customers who want to build their own self-service portal. To facilitate your efforts to build and develop your own self-service portal, in September we will share the Windows Azure Pack Tenant self-service portal source code that can be leveraged as a sample. Upcoming blog posts will go into greater detail on this experience.

Customize the experience to fit the branding and theming needs of the portal

Customers would like the tenant-facing portal to reflect the brand that their business represents. Therefore, it is very essential that the portal offers the customers the ability to customize the look and feel of the portal to reflect their choice of colors, fonts, logos, and various other artifacts that represent the brand. To enable this scenario, the Windows Azure Pack Self-Service Tenant Portal has been designed from the ground up with cloud services in mind, and has been updated to allow our partners and customers to adapt it to their business needs.

Customizable Web Experience

The Self-Service Tenant Portal enables easy customization with your theme and brand, a custom login experience, and banners. The sample kit contains CSS files to easily override the default images, logos, colors, and the like.

Add-on services

As new services are introduced, the portal can light up these services easily. This capability is possible because the framework uses REST APIs and scales to a large number of services easily.
For example, the ability to provide custom domains is a very common need for service providers. The self-service framework allows the service provider to include these value-added services to the framework easily and in a format that makes them ready for their tenants to consume.
In the example seen in Figure 5 (see below), “Web Site Domains” is a new Resource Provider, providing custom domains. When configured, the portal lights up with this capability, allowing the tenants to subscribe to the offer.
Figure 5: Add-on services.


The ability to differentiate the tenant experience is a key strategy for many service providers, and to support such scenarios the Tenant Portal source code is provided as mentioned earlier. This enables the service provider to use the Tenant Portal as a sample and to use the Service Management API’s to integrate the experience with their own portal.   

Scenario 3: Automation for Creating Efficient, Policy Driven and Consistent Process for Service Providers

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About Doru Somcutean

Hello, my name is Somcutean Doru and I'm from Romania.

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