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Contributor: Orin Thomas
Five technologies Windows IT pros need to know to be ready for the next five years

The career of an IT professional is different to that of many other professions. In many other careers, you do the majority of your learning at the beginning. Once you have mastered that core of basic knowledge, you continue to learn at an incremental rate, building on your knowledge as you progress throughout your career.

Many of the job skills that IT pros have today will likely be outdated or even irrelevant within 10 years. To be successful, you will need to keep up with what’s new and useful, and keep an eye on the latest technology. What’s cutting edge today could be assumed knowledge tomorrow.

With that in mind, here are five technologies those working with Windows Server should become familiar with – each is likely to become very important in the next five years. In some cases, these technologies have been around for a while, others are brand spanking new – and learning how they work will allow you to get in at the ground floor.

Windows Server and Hyper-V Containers

Available with Server 2016, containers have been around on open source platforms for a while. Containers allow you to run workloads in silos on a host. For example, you could run a SQL instance on a host, with the data stored in another location. Rather than upgrade the SQL instance directly, you could replace the current container with a new one running the updated SQL instance. Containers make many workloads portable. It’s far easier to upload a container that’s a few hundred MB into the cloud than it is to upload a full virtual machine that’s 20GB or so. Containers are likely to have a similar effect on the industry in the next 10 years as virtualisation has had in the last 10. Understanding how containers work and how they are different to virtual machines will give you an edge as the technology becomes more widely adopted.

Desired State Configuration/Chef/Puppet

Configuration as code makes most sense once you’ve seen it work. Observing it in action will help you understand why it’s a technology that’s going to quickly dominate the way we deploy and manage server configuration in the coming years. Technologies such as Desired State Configuration, Chef and Puppet allow you to specify how a computer should be configured using a special document rather than setting that configuration manually.

Once the computer is configured according to the specifications in the document, the configuration as code technology then continuously checks the configuration of the computer against that document, making changes as required. For example, should a necessary role or feature be removed, the technology will quickly ensure that it is reinstalled. The benefit of configuration as code is that you don’t have to spend ages configuring each server for deployment or watching for configuration drift. Should you need to deploy a replacement, you’ll just have to copy the manifest document to a new server and start up Desired State Configuration, Chef or Puppet.

Nano Server

Nano Server is an installation option for Windows Server 2016 that allows you to run an increasing number of Windows Server loads using a minimal footprint OS. Rather than having to devote a couple of GB of RAM and 15 or more GB of hard-drive space on a virtualisation host for each server, Nano Server gives you a version of Windows Server that runs with half a GB of RAM and about the same amount of disk space. Nano Server differs from a traditional installation in that you perform all management remotely rather than logging on locally. This is a big change for many Windows administrators, and is likely to become an increasingly common way of doing things in the next five years.

Office 365

For some, this is a no-brainer. Office 365 has been around for a while, and more and more organisations – especially small- and medium-sized businesses – have or are planning to make the switch from traditional Small Business Server-type deployments to Office 365. If you aren’t familiar with Office 365 and you are responsible for looking after Exchange or SharePoint and have let your skills drift, spin up an Enterprise E3 trial and see what it can do. You don’t need to shift to Office 365 from your current on-premises deployment, but you should know what it does.

Azure

The cloud is another technology you might not want to use right away, but which you should know about because it could be where things are going in the future. While there are many cloud providers, Azure is the one most likely to be of interest to administrators running Windows workloads. At present, the cloud is popular among startups and organisations without substantial on-premises infrastructure. As costs come down, however, more established organisations are likely to start running at least some of their workloads in data centres operated by some of the major cloud providers.

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