Who Remembers Winsock?

November 27, 2019 Dan Scarfe

It might strike you as quite implausible, but there was a time when Windows didn’t include the technology necessary to connect to the Internet. Yes, it’s true. Back in the days of Windows 95, sockets (one of the core requirements for internet connectivity) was a bolt-on to Windows, a third-party solution you had to install to allow your PC to use dial-up internet and browse the still-new World Wide Web.

Cast your mind back to the same period and you may recall another then-famous bolt-on to Windows– Novell. Along with a lack of ability to connect to the Internet, there was also no centralised identity provider for local area networks. You could log on to your own PC. You could connect those PCs to a “workgroup” (Windows 3.11 was Windows for Workgroups) and get some basic sharing capabilities, but you couldn’t use your credentials to log in to a different PC owned by the company. If you wanted centralized identity and security management, you needed to use a third-party bolt-on called Novell Netware. Novell was, at the time, wildly successful and used by just about every enterprise adopting Windows.

What’s the connection between these two technologies? The connection is that no one who started their careers in IT within the last decade will ever have even heard of them. They are been confined to the history books, reminiscent of a world where these capabilities didn’t exist natively within the operating system.

Microsoft has always been a platform company. Microsoft created operating systems and platforms that third-party independent software vendors (ISVs) could use to build and deploy their uniquely differentiated solutions. The reason why Microsoft was so successful was because of this one simple fact: if you wanted a given piece of accounting software, or a particular flavor of hospitality management software-whatever it was-the chances were it ran on Windows. Microsoft and its ISVs became symbiotically reliant on each other and fueled each other’s success.

Being an ISV was, and still is, a dangerous place to build your business. As Winsock, Novell, and hundreds of other ISVs have discovered over the years, there is a steamroller trundling behind them. That steamroller is Microsoft. What happened to Novell? Active Directory happened to Novell. When Windows Server 2000 was released, Microsoft bundled into it a (then) brand new network and identity management system that enterprises could use to perform the functions they used to have to rely on a third-party like Novell to deliver. The result? Novell doesn’t exist anymore.

One of the reasons Windows Server became so successful over the years was because it included so much of what an enterprise needed, baked into the operating system. You need clustering? Sure, we’ve got you covered. You need firewalls? Of course, here you go. You need file shares and access control management? Tada. Slowly but surely, the ecosystem of ISVs deploying their add-ons to Windows Server got smaller and smaller as more and more capabilities were available natively. And these native solutions were typically much more cost effective than purchasing third-party bolt-ons. Did they deliver all the capabilities of these third parties to begin? Nope. Did Microsoft overtake just about every one of them in time? They sure did.

So why are we reminiscing about the dim and distant past? Because, history has a habit of repeating itself. History might be providing us with a useful clue as to where the Cloud is going. Certainly, where the Microsoft cloud is going.

When Microsoft released what was at the time Windows Azure it was very much like Windows for Workgroups was back-in-the-day. It was a platform. A platform bereft of many of the capabilities an enterprise would need to effectively utilize it. Whilst it did thankfully include the ability to connect to the internet (it would have been tough to deliver otherwise), it didn’t include what you might consider basic capabilities such as routing control. You could route to the internet, you could (latter) route to an on-premises environment via a site-to-site VPN. But you couldn’t do much more. You certainly couldn’t describe complex routing tables and rules on where traffic should go based on where it was coming from or where it was going to. There were no firewall capabilities. No monitoring capabilities. No file sharing capabilities. The list went on and on.

Guess what? ISVs started to pop-up to fill these gaps in the capabilities of the underlying platform, with strong encouragement from Microsoft. ISVs who went on to be wildly successful doing this. For Microsoft, these ISVs were perfect to unblock sales of their underlying platform. When you don’t have the ability to do something, there was no harm having someone else pick up those crumbs. But in the distance, there was a hum. A hum that just kept getting louder and louder. That hum was a steamroller. And it was heading straight for those ISVs.

Remember why Windows Server was so successful? Because over time it started to incorporate more and more of those capabilities provided by the third parties and made them easy to consume and cost effective to use. This is now where we find ourselves with Azure. Microsoft is now laser-focused on providing the most comprehensive set of capabilities on its cloud. The simplest experience for administrators. The most bang for customers’ buck. We are witnessing this all around us. There will naturally always be a decision-point to make. The native capabilities will typically not always deliver the same range of capabilities that third-party bolt-ons can. They continue to get better and better though.

Until recently we would advise customers to invest in third party firewall solutions for Azure. Companies like Barracuda, Fortinet, or Palo Alto. Today, we tell customers to use the native capabilities in the platform like Azure Front Door. We used to advise companies to continue to leverage their investments into System Center Operations Manager or their existing monitoring platforms. Today we advise them to use Azure Monitor. We used to advise them to use their traditional anti-virus solutions. Today, Defender. We used to say stick with your legacy security incident and event management (SIEM) solution. Today, Sentinel. The list goes on and on.

So why have we taken this quick lap around the history books? Because history has a habit of repeating itself, and if you want to be successful in the future it’s always helpful to have one eye on the past. If you’re looking at starting to make, or continuing to make, your journey into the cloud it’s vital you use the right tools. It’s vital you give your system administrators access to the easiest-to-use and most cost-effective solutions to deploy, secure, manage and govern your cloud environment.

If history does repeat itself-as it often does-you don’t want to be to the company rolling out Novell just before Active Directory takes over the world. You don’t want to be deploying Winsock to have to rip it all out again. Before you jump in with third-party bolt-ons, investigate the native capabilities the platform offers. You’ll save yourself a ton of time, and most importantly money. You’ll get yourself the best chance of being successful. If you want to find out more about these native capabilities and how to take advantage, get in touch with New Signature. We can help you unlock your native-cloud model with our NS:Go program.

Previous Article
Office Explorers Episode 013: Project Management
Office Explorers Episode 013: Project Management

The exclusive New Signature podcast, Office Explorers, has been live and successful for a full year. Over t...

Next Article
New Signature Demonstrates Elite Azure Security Competency with Successful Completion of Microsoft AZ500 and MS500 Exams
New Signature Demonstrates Elite Azure Security Competency with Successful Completion of Microsoft AZ500 and MS500 Exams

New Signature is proud to announce that our organization has successfully completed one of the most ambitio...