The move up from Version 4.2 includes the adoption of Azure Active Directory as the authentication of record, a new interface, Cloud Workspace Suite’s first app services, resource scheduling, server scaling and automatic server cloning.
IndependenceIT has announced the 5.0 version of its Cloud Workspace Suite workspace automation software platform, in what the company is saying is the most significant update it has ever done. The biggest change is the adoption of Microsoft Azure Active Directory-as-a-Service as the authentication of record, which will provide a logical overlay for central management of multiple instances of Cloud Workspace Suite, and improve partners’ ability to leverage Office 365. Other enhancements include a new UI with a new layout, and enhanced workflows and functionality.
“Our adoption of Azure is a nod to Microsoft’s success in pushing its partners, and doing such a good job of convincing people that everything should be on Azure and Azure Active Directory,” said Charles ‘Chip’ Buck, IndependenceIT’s founder and CTO. “We are now using it as the authentication of record. Other clouds can still be used, but this is the credential provider.”
Buck said that using Azure Active Directory in this way provides a foundational building block for multi-node and multi-vendor distributed software-defined data centres.
“Software-defined data centres that are one unit, but spread across different physical centres can be easily united into one logically-defined data centre,” he said. “It also improves partners’ ability to leverage Office 365 and also lays the ground for a secondary project of ours for later in the year.”
Buck said that along this same theme, they have created a whole new workflow for software-defined datacentre deployment.
“We have built a wizard that a partner can walk through, which gathers all the information the partner needs to deploy the data centre, just by selecting their target,” he said. “This applies beyond Azure. By the end of this build cycle, you will have an environment where partners can rapidly stand up data centre modes in lots of different locations and tie them all into a logical unit.”
Version 5.0 also introduces of Cloud Workspace Suite App Services managed from within Cloud Workspace Suite’s global control plane.
“In Version 4x, there wasn’t a concept of app services, but was something that partners built on their own, where each unit was a self-contained collection of services specific to a customer in a one-to-one relationship,” Buck said. “In Version 5.0., a partner can create a one-to-many relationship for app services. It lets them use app services that are hyperscalable to build other service components, and provides a different layer of scalability and methodology for pushing app services out.”
Resource scheduling which permits services to be reduced or shut down based n SLAs has also been added with this release.
“Today almost every build goes to a big public cloud, so we have created a resource schedule for each different app service or workspace, creating a schedule to reduce serve levels at certain times – unless the customer pays for 24/7 service – or to turn things off completely in the public cloud,” Buck said. “This lets the partner build an arbitrage between different costs.”
Another related enhancement is Live Server Scaling, automatic, intelligent scaling of server resources up or down as workloads vary.
“Server scaling lets you only bring up a small portion at the beginning of service period and scale resources up as demand increases during the workday,” Buck said. “It works the reverse at the end of the work day, dropping resources. This is another way to save more money through ‘just in time’ management.”
The cloning of new servers has also been made automatic – with some riders.
“In Version 4.x, new server builds were done by admins after recommendation from the platform,” Buck said. “We are stepping that up to make the cloning process completely automatic. The partner can choose total automation or partial automation.
“We are kind of sticking our necks out on this one,” Buck admitted. “This is not something that partners have been demanding, but as demands on administrators grow, we want to adjust for size and scope. The number of servers under management in software data centers has moved from tens to hundreds to thousands. Something like this may apply more to the ISV community that are doing app services that are hyperscalable, rather than MSPs doing smaller workloads for smaller customers, but I think that remains to be seen.”
While the trend in this release is clearly towards more automation, IndependenceIT has also given partners the option of applying a brake, if they choose.
“We have learned over time that some partners get nervous about all this automation, so we’ve given them a familiar interface from Version 4.1 with an override, so they can granularly manipulate these resources,” Buck said.
Another new feature is one that Buck said some partners, especially new ones, may consider to be “wonky and down in the weeds” – the ability to customize what a NTFS file system will look like.
“This applies only to Workspaces, and is something that many partners have been demanding, to decide what a drive letter is named,’ he said. “They have beaten that one into us, so we have given them what they want.”
Finally, and running through all of this, are major changes to the UI, including simplified menu structure and an increased number of task-based workflows for administrators.
“We are sticking with the same Web architecture, but changing the layout of the administrator control panel,” Buck said. “It makes it much cleaner and faster in terms of performance. All the new features we added drove the decision to completely overhaul the UI, because they would have made the old one too busy.”
Buck indicated that a lot of other elements in 5.x will come out later, as the year goes along. He also noted that IndependenceIT has now had several patents which they applied for in 2013 approved.
“These were awarded in February, and include our multi-tier API architecture, which is quite novel and unique,” he said. In this two-tier API Architecture, a Local Control plane orchestrates the software-defined data centre itself, while a Global Control plane acts as the command interface to the Local Control plane.