Microsoft Dev Box — a better path to provisioning and productivity?

Disclosure: Microsoft is a client of the author.

Microsoft is basically a platform and tools vendor, and it’s particularly good at developing tools largely because it’s made up of developers. But the problem with a company like Microsoft creating tools for others is that it firm doesn’t really know what “others” do. This is because, like any job, developers are focused on doing their own jobs and generally aren’t rotated through other positions in a company to better understand what other jobs consist of. 

While I expect this is an issue that generative AI will eventually fix, when it comes to developing for developers, Microsoft tends to stand out because it knows better than most what they struggle with. That brings me to Microsoft Dev Box; initially announced at last year’s Microsoft Build, the effort dates back to 2016 when a then-new service, Azure DevTest Labs, was created to provide VMs for a variety of development and test instances. 

This laid the foundation for Microsoft Dev Box, a transformative, cloud-based, developer-optimized workstation that could lay the foundation for a better Windows experience for non-developers in the future. Let’s explore what that means. 

The onboarding problem

There is a major problem at the moment in onboarding developers, particularly those working on AI projects. Companies are desperately hiring from employee pools that are overfished, lack diversity, and include employees of questionable quality. These increasingly sub-optimal workers arrive at a company where everyone is overworked, and no one has the time for even basic onboarding — let alone the kind of detailed help a new employee needs.

Eventually, generative AI can be focused on this problem. But right now, even getting properly configured hardware in a timely manner is difficult, especially if there’s a specific configuration needed for a project. 

Being able to at least provide a resource so new or transferred employees have the right tools would help immensely when ramping up a new project and bringing onboard the related developers. 

Microsoft Dev Box to the rescue?

Microsoft Dev Box is a cloud workstation instance that can be rapidly configured to the unique needs of a new developer. No hardware needs to be ordered, no capital expenses approved, and there’s no shipping or lengthy setup time. The Dev Box can be deployed from the Dev Portal, configured against guidelines by project, and will immediately be in compliance with data management and security practices.

(According to Microsoft, each Dev Box user must be licensed for Windows 11 Enterprise or Windows 10 Enterprise, Microsoft Endpoint Manager, and Azure Active Directory P1. These licenses can also be included in Microsoft 365 F3, Microsoft 365 E3, Microsoft 365 E5, Microsoft 365 A3, Microsoft 365 A5, Microsoft 365 Business Premium, and Microsoft 365 Education Student Use Benefit subscriptions. Pricing varies depending on the individual instances needed.)

A few years ago, I was briefed on the following event: two researchers went to IT at a large pharma company and requested workstations so they could complete a high-profile (and potentially very lucrative) drug development effort. IT gave them a budget of around $250,000 — and a timeline of nine months before they would get the hardware. The researchers, instead, turned to a cloud service, got the project done in a few weeks for less than $40,000 and won an award for saving money. They were then fired for breaching security policy when it was discovered the data had moved to a Russian server farm and been compromised. Obviously, complying with management and security policies is critical to efforts like this.  

Being able to quickly, securely, and effectively provision new employees is critical not only to the retention and morale of those workers but to productivity overall. While the Dev Box is focused on developers, the same process could be applied to jobs that require specialized endpoint capabilities where provisioning problems arise. Thinking broadly, the Dev Box approach could be used successfully (with the proper consulting advice) to other functional areas in a company.

Providing an easy, safe, and secure way to provision employees would go a long way to assuring those workers don’t leave. (I found this out first-hand when I worked at Siemens and saw a 200% turnover directly attributed to poor employee provisioning — a key cause of the division’s subsequent failure.)

Microsoft Dev Box shows how cloud resources can be used to rapidly give employees the tools they need to be successful. My hope is that this quickly moves out of the development space to provide similar capabilities to the vast number of employees who, right now, are likely unaware that there is a better path to assuring they have the tools they need when they need them.  

Copyright © 2023 IDG Communications, Inc.


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