This blog explores Evergreen IT, and answers the following questions
- What is Evergreen IT?
- Are organisations making the move to Evergreen?
- What about the OS?
- What is Microsoft’s solution for the Evergreen OS?
- What is the main challenge adopting Windows as-a-service?
- How to enable Evergreen applications?
What is "Evergreen IT"
Back in 2009, Price Waterhouse Coopers first coined the phrase “Evergreen IT” as
"a pattern of IT provisioning, architecture, and operational management designed to deliver loose coupling between logically distinct layers of the IT stack. It is indeed inspired by, and will eventually use, external cloud providers. However, the goal of Evergreen IT is not cloud computing per se. The goal is to transition IT operations from predominantly manual to predominantly automated processes driven by intelligent software. The result is an approach where incremental IT investment no longer creates legacy systems. Instead, each layer of the IT stack can be continually refreshed without worrying about interdependencies between layers."
Microsoft refined this definition of Evergreen IT to
"… running services comprised of components that are always up to date. Evergreen IT encompasses not only the services at the user level but all of the underlying infrastructures, whether on-site or outsourced. Many organizations believe that Evergreen IT holds promise for reducing the resources and energy they need to expend on providing the up-to-date and flexible services that their users are demanding."
Are organisations making the move to Evergreen?
Over the last 5-10 years, organisations have gradually adopted the cloud for new services within the business, rather than opting to deploy and manage the software themselves. This has enabled IT, and employees, to see the benefits of software that is always up to date and think in terms of services and not software/ hardware. Users have even seen these benefits extend to installed applications too - no one thinks of Chrome as having a version number, and even Microsoft has ditched IE and Office’s highly prominent version numbers with the Edge browser and Office 365. Office, a product that once caused significant heartburn for IT migrations has gone Evergreen for the 120 million+ business users who are active today. Confidence in the cloud has now grown to the point where organisations have started deploying and managing their on-premises infrastructure in the Cloud, including Citrix XenApp workloads in Azure and AWS to benefit from agility, and simplicity of scale up and down. But Evergreen isn’t just about the cloud, it is about adopting a mindset for automation, and keeping services up to date so you don’t create the legacy systems of the future. The paradigm shift has certainly started, but one key component is missing.
What about the OS?
Perhaps the single biggest barrier to this Evergreen vision, is the OS. Every organisation that has been around for over 10+ years, and has built its infrastructure around Microsoft, has struggled through at least one OS transition. If you have been around longer, then the chances are you have been through multiple, expensive and overwhelming big bang transitions with Windows 3.1 to 95 or Windows NT, to Windows XP, to Windows 7 and that is just the desktop OSes! Server side, IT has had to manage the transitions from NT to Server 2000 and 2003, and then perhaps the biggest hurdle, switching from 32-bit to 64-bit with the transition to Server 2008R2 presenting one of the costliest and most divisive transitions because it left many 16-bit applications stuck on Windows 2003. Most IT professionals would probably give up their first born to get some of the time and money back that they had spent over the years.
What is Microsoft’s solution for the Evergreen OS?
Microsoft is trying to tackle the thorny issue of the OS with the release of Windows 10, and Windows as-a-service, which sees rolling feature updates every 6 months – in the fall and spring - combined with monthly & cumulative quality updates. These quality updates help reduce the likelihood of patching dependencies causing problems.
Customers can elect to be on different service channels – a semi-annual channel (described above) and a long-term servicing channel which is more akin to the major version releases. There is also the Windows Insider channel, which is better suited to IT pros who want to stay ahead of changes to detect problems before they are released into production.
If you want Evergreen IT, then you need to be on the semi-annual channel to remain current, smoothing out the OS transitions, and avoiding the painful big bang transitions that exist on the long-term servicing channel.
What is the main challenge adopting Windows as-a-Service?
Whether you experience a painful migration will depend on what your current platform is - if you are fortunate to have already made the transition to Win 7 and Server 2008R2 then the step change to Evergreen will be certainly be smoother than if you are still running on XP and Server 2003. Why, just like any OS migration it is all about the applications – nothing has changed here – whether you are patching, or upgrading the OS ensuring your business applications are not impacted is of paramount importance. The apps presented the greatest challenge moving from 16-bit to 32-bit, and 64-bit OSes. Industry surveys reveal this challenge time and time again if you are migrating to the latest version of Citrix or Windows. Insights shared in the 2017 CIO Agenda Report revealed “51% to 60% of government core business applications were implemented between 1990 and 2009”. Again half of 1800 respondents in a Dimensional Research study (sponsored by Ivanti) listed application compatibility as a reason for delaying their Win 10 migration project. While the long term servicing channel was intended for mission critical systems RedmondMag noted that
“the most disturbing finding from both reports [the Dimensional Research and a Gartner Inc. survey of 1,000+ organizations], though, is the surprising popularity of the Windows 10 Long-Term Servicing Branch (LTSB). Overall, Dimension Research says one in five respondents plan to deploy LTSB; for companies with more than 5,000 employees, that number spikes to 27 percent.”
Which goes to show you can’t adopt an Evergreen strategy if you haven’t solved the application compatibility problem with the operating system. So how do you safeguard your business’ applications during this transformation?
How to enable Evergreen applications?
The answer lies in the original definition from PWC – “loose coupling between logically distinct layers of the IT stack” - abstracting, the application from the operating system. While traditional virtualization like Citrix XenApp, RDSH, App-V, ThinApp etc have focused on abstracting the user and their device from the application with remoting protocols, or packaging and virtualisation to simplify deployment – they have not addressed the dependency on the operating system. We believe three things are required for to enable line of business applications to make the transition to Windows as-a-Service and an Evergreen strategy
- A compatibility layer that can translate and overcome the way the app expects the modern OS to behave vs the legacy OS.
- Redirection to help the compatibility layer abstract the application from where it used to install and run to where modern OS needs it to.
- And finally, isolation so that the old version of the runtime required by the app does not present a security risk, or interfere with those used by other applications.
Once the application is provided in a container that offers these capabilities you can move your application to the new OS. The abstraction the container provides helps ensure that Windows builds released through Semi Annual Channel wont impact the application – helping you minimise the amount of testing required before the Win 10/ Server 2016 updates are approved for production machines.
What if you have a transformation project delivering the next generation application that is compatible with Windows 10? If you do, then chances are it is probably holding up your Windows 10, and Office 365 rollouts – containerizing your app would be a good way to unblock your Win 10 project, and ease your transition to the new application with one simple update. Or to put it like PWC “the result is an approach where incremental IT investment no longer creates legacy systems”.
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By Stu Moore, Head of Product