When Mike Ehrenberg, technical fellow at Microsoft Dynamics ERP, described Microsoft Dynamics AX's complete overhaul to CMSWire earlier this month, he may have tipped his hand on the company's focus for 2016.

Microsoft, he said, will be doubling down on the needs of its on-premises users even as it continues to build out its cloud creds. Ehrenberg pointed out that a number of products currently in production, including Windows Server 2016, the Azure Stack and SQL Server 2016, have extensive functionality aimed at marrying public cloud effectiveness with the control and security of on-premises operations.

Microsoft's Steady Drip of Hints

This is not exactly breaking news. Microsoft has made it clear in ways large and small that it is moving to not only blur, but almost completely rub out the line between on-premises and cloud.

It re-branded much of its portfolio earlier this year, for example, doing away with names that implied, erroneously or not, that such-and-such product was for the cloud alone, or aimed strictly for on premises users. 

At this year's Ignite, Microsoft promised to continue building out what it calls the intelligent cloud — that is, infrastructure that would unify cloud and on premises systems.

Then came the news earlier this month that Microsoft and Red Hat agreed to make Red Hat's version of the Linux operating system natively available to users of Microsoft Azure.

So it's safe to say Microsoft views the hybrid cloud — which Ehrenberg is essentially describing — as important.  

What is new, however, is the sense one gets from Ehrenberg that Microsoft will be going all in to facilitate a hybrid cloud environment for users, especially via upcoming features.

"The tendency in the cloud community is to talk about what is live and possible right now," Ehrenberg said. “We don’t think the hybrid cloud has gotten the attention from the market that it deserves."

The changes are still in preview, so Ehrenberg was reluctant to discuss the underlying tech further.

But looking back at the technical previews Microsoft released throughout the year in light of Ehrenberg's comments, one could easily extrapolate that 2016 may well be the year of the hybrid cloud for Microsoft.

Connecting the Dots

The Azure Stack, which Microsoft unveiled in depth in May, will be the foundation in the company's hybrid strategy as it will allow on premises data servers to operate as a private cloud of Azure services in order to support custom apps.

The Stack will support IaaS and PaaS services in the datacenter, which means users can blend enterprise applications such as SQL Server, SharePoint and Exchange with modern distributed applications and services, Mike Neil, Microsoft's general manager for Windows Server, wrote earlier this year.

In addition, the application deployments are consistent, whether provisioned to Azure in the public cloud or via Azure Stack.

"The Microsoft Azure Stack gives application owners the ability to 'write once, deploy anywhere,' whether it be to your private cloud, a service provider's cloud, or the public Azure cloud," according to another blog post by Natalia Mackevicius, Partner Group manager at Microsoft.

"One Azure ecosystem across public, private and hosted clouds will allow you to participate in a unified, robust partner network for Azure clouds."

Windows Server 2016 is offering the usual slew of enhancements in server virtualization, storage, software-defined networking, server management and automation, web and application platform, access and information protection and virtual desktop infrastructure.

However its main, but not only, contribution to Microsoft's hybrid cloud ecosystem will be its Hyper-V Containers, the first public offering of Windows Server Containers.

It means, among other things, that for the first time developers outside of Microsoft will be able to experiment with new applications that run partly on Windows, partly on Linux. Microsoft is also making Windows Server Containers part of the Docker open source project.

SQL Server 2016, the next major release of Microsoft’s flagship database and analytics platform, will also have an array of new and/or enhanced real-time operational analytics, visualizations on mobile devices and security technology — as well as new hybrid cloud scenarios.

A new feature in SQL Server 2016 called Stretch Database will enable these hybrid scenarios. With Stretch Database — so-called because it 'dynamically stretches' warm and cold transactional data between an on-premises environment and Azure to Microsoft Azure — users get the best of both worlds: operational data that is close at hand, coupled with the low cost of using Microsoft Azure.

"This will enable our customers to take advantage of the cloud economics of lower cost compute and storage without being forced into an all-or-nothing database move," Joseph Sirosh, Corporate Vice President of the Data Group at Microsoft, wrote in October when the Community Technology Preview (CTP) 3.0 of SQL Server 2016 was released. "Stretch Database is transparent to your application, and the trickle of data to Azure can be paused and restarted without downtime."

Title image by David Marcu