Since announcing Project Avalon at Synergy San Francisco in May, I have had numerous conversations with customers trying to understand just exactly what it means to operate or consume Windows as a cloud service. The words “cloud” or “cloud service” can have many different connotations and to many Enterprise customers the cloud can be a scary place that they know they are headed for, but not sure what their IT organizations, infrastructure or workflow will look like when they get there.

Instead of trying to explain the concepts of cloud operations and IT-as-a-Service, I’d like discuss two different but related conversations I have had with numerous IT organizations who have been asking for exactly what Project Avalon delivers… but never used the word cloud.

Operating at cloudscale

It has been well established that running smaller deployments of desktop virtualization is easy. One administrator can build out master images, thin provision them to create a bunch of clones, and manage a few catalogs of desktops against a few AD security groups. The admin knows what resources he has, can see the servers and storage in a rack and knows he has the network between hosts and storage to give him IOPS or performance and can see the load on individual hosts to ensure performance and availability. With a background in virtual infrastructure tools and and a working knowledge of XenDesktop or VDI-in-a-box, a single admin can easily manage hundreds or even a few thousand of desktops without leaving his or her console.

Getting from hundreds to several thousands of desktops gets harder… One admin can’t see or touch all the resources needed, and division of labor becomes critical. Storage, networking, virtual infrastructure, Support and NOC teams all need to work together to optimize their part of the puzzle adding reliability and efficiency. The performance demands of highly transient and IOPS critical workloads with various degrees of persistence and HA requirements can certainly be conquered, and have been my numerous XenDesktop customers running tens of thousands of desktops, but each of these customers has to work out their own management workflows based on manual and/or scripted processes that are prone to human error as with any manual process.

So the common question we get from our more experienced customers is how can they scale up their environment while segregating the roles of a virtual desktop administrator with those of the storage or networking, or virtual infrastructure teams? How can the datacenter infrastructure team provide the right service to the desktop team, and vice versa so that they can optimize delivery of virtual desktops? These customers never use the word cloud, but that’s exactly what they are asking for.

The first phase of Project Avalon, the Excalibur release is designed among other things to provide customizable, object and scope-based RBAC (Role based access controls) designed to enable management at cloud scale across FlexCast application and desktop delivery. Then, advanced configuration logging and intelligent configuration wizards help to assure secure, consistent deployments at any scale.

Check out the Tech Preview for Excalibur

The next phase of Project Avalon, the Merlin release,  is being built to take advantage of an abstraction layer between compute, storage and networking infrastructure and the defined desktop services required for taking mere virtualization to “the next level.” By defining the handoff between infrastructure resources and higher level services, IT can more easily and reliably handle the complexity of cloud-scale availability and performance management through instrumentation and automation.

IT centralization

Another common conversation with our Enterprise customers is along the lines of the age old struggle with the consolidation and centralization of IT resources while still meeting the needs of local or disparate business units. Whether an IT organization is acquiring new companies, expanding oversees, or simply trying to reduce costs by centralizing resources, or improve their security posture through standardization, there remains a stress between “local” and “central” IT. Commonly, it is the desktop folks who get caught in the middle. Local administrators want to be responsive to the requests and demands of their local leaders and co-workers while still trying to uphold the centralized policies of their re-organized “bosses” in corporate. (Sound familiar, anyone?)

The stress doesn’t stop for the local teams either. The centralized desktop team is trying to figure out how to virtualize thousands of applications and determine the right mix of virtual hosted apps and base image-installed apps for business units a continent away. The central teams know infrastructure, they don’t, and likely can’t expect to understand the workflow needs of users around the globe.

These customers ask for a way to provide centralized desktop services with the ability to standardize for cost and security policy, but delegate the creation and management of individual image management, group policy, and app virtualization to the IT organizations closer to their “customers.”

Once again, project Avalon will empower centralized IT organizations to organize effectively to provide the cost advantages and security enforcement of massive centralization, while enabling decentralized IT resources to leverage a central service to customize and manage services for their users. The instrumentation and automation behind “cloud portals” are a necessity of enabling organizations to leverage “cloud,” or massively centralized resources that they can’t see or touch.

Instead of treating the central resource as merely a big pool of infrastructure, Project Avalon goes one step further to build out a service offerings, service catalog, or a menu of subscriber options specific to Windows desktops and application services. This focus enables Enterprise IT organizations to effectively harness the power of the cloud with the workflows, instrumentation, tools, and best-practices necessary to take advantage of economies of scale. Meanwhile a new class of service designers will be empowered to build services concentrating on user productivity and convenience for business units, distributed locations and end users with the tools they need to work and play from anywhere. In short- Central IT acting as a service provider.

Check out how Citrix is leveraging the experience gained from over 2,000 service providers

Learn more about the self-service layer

T organizations want to be more relevant than ever in the cloud-era. Shifting focus and leveraging Project Avalon to enable new services that enable flexibility; convenience and efficiency will allow them to be just that.