Microsoft's Future in the Cloud

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Rahul Neel Mani

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Vikas Arora, Group Director, Cloud Services, Microsoft India speaks to Rahul Neel Mani on Microsoft's late entry into the cloud platform, how Azure compares with Amazon's products, Microsoft's future in the cloud and other possibilities in cloud computing...

Q:Ray Ozzie recently made a comment that Windows Azure will be setting the stage for the next 50 years of business for Microsoft. What is the broad framework and roadmap that Microsoft has in mind to launch its cloud services?

A: I can relate to where Ray is coming from. He said something four years ago when he laid out Microsoft’s vision for the cloud. They actually called it software + services. That was the defining moment wherein we envisioned cloud services. Windows Azure has been one of the key focus areas since then.

There will be several others areas but Microsoft has a long-term commitment towards cloud. The cloud platforms will provide simplicity and ease of use for the users. The only difference is probably we would see changes sooner in the cloud given that there is a certain catalyzing effect cloud has on IT adoption.


Q: Microsoft is a late entrant in the cloud space. What was it that compelled the corporation to jump on to the cloud and offer Azure as an offering?

A: There is a misconception. It is true that our arrival is late but we have been talking about our cloud vision for the past several years. A classic example is Microsoft Online Services. It has been around for about six years.

It offers basic email services and that has now moved on to what we call Business Productivity Office Suite (BPOS). Xbox Live has also been around for five-six years and I think the defining point of that service is it is consumed on a device.

Several other services that we have been delivering conventionally till now will come through cloud. Alongside Windows Azure, we shall start extending our collaboration product suite - Exchange, Share Point, Live Meeting and Office on cloud.

On the database front, we basically extend the SQL Server to the cloud integration layer. We are quite experienced in delivering services using the cloud. All we want now is that every Microsoft product should have a cloud version.


Q: What is the roadmap for your company? What is the state of preparedness as of now in term of platform consolidation?

A: Our portfolio is across the three broad layers of the cloud — infrastructure, platform and software services. The ‘dynamic data centre tool kit’, which is essentially the platform for setting up a private cloud, allows our partners and customers to set up a secure cloud. We have added capability in the system centre.

We have already demonstrated our virtualisation capabilities. Basically, the product line is ready for setting up the cloud — both in the private and public cloud environment. Second thing in our portfolio is platform-as-a-service (PaaS), which is Windows Azure or SQL Azure.

This is a set of products which will allow developer companies to have an operating environment in the cloud. These products will continue to support building and deploying the applications.

The third platform is the software as a service. Microsoft will offer Exchange online, Share Point online and Live Meeting online.


Q:As I said, Microsoft is late in entering the cloud race. The buzz around Azure was much delayed in comparison to EC2 of Amazon. Will Microsoft have something to offer that is better than the others?

A: We have already started coming across several independent articles that have rated Azure the most influential product in terms of its platform capabilities. The competitive platforms, for example, Amazon, provides compute and storage capabilities in a highly virtualised environment. Is that a true rational database capability?

Yes, if you are running in a virtualised environment!  But who manages it? You yourself manage it like you do it for your own data centre.

When we talk about a platform like Azure, it basically takes away a lot of that and allows you to focus on your applications. You can define how the application should operate, how you would take back ups, how you would patch things... The service takes care of everything that you need. 

You don’t require IT people managing this environment. Azure as a platform provides a lot of simplicity in deployment and managing operations for an application environment, which Amazon doesn’t provide.
Maybe it is not their focus area.


Q: What do you think are some of the exclusive benefits of adopting the cloud?

A: It makes sense for users to adopt cloud based applications when they want real benefits in terms of return on investment and total cost of ownership. Cloud applications have kind of on/off characteristics.

For some applications like data warehousing, there is very intense use for only three or four days in a month, and once that period is over, the application and the associated infrastructure is not required. These are seasonal or completely unpredictable peak loads.

In these scenarios, it makes sense to harness the cloud because it gives you an instant RoI.

The Azure platform provides both: capabilities suitable for web applications as well as batch applications. We have actually seen traction in both large corporates as well as small businesses. Coca Cola is a great example of a large company which is using email application on the cloud and a couple of more workload applications.

We have just launched it in India and there has been a phenomenal response. We have got more than 500 customers already. Lavasa city is an example of a customer using the email application.

The companies are moving their commodity workload applications like email and chat on the cloud to free up a lot of their IT capacities to do some real application work. You can expect them to run pretty reliably like they used to do in the Exchange environment. Other thing that people are using it for and which we realised when we launched the trials, is Live Meeting.

You suddenly see lot of value in cutting down your phone calls and actually have a richer collaboration communication happening because people are being able to share the Word, Excel, Power Point applications over a Live Meeting link instead of having to email big attachments all across.

Both small and large businesses are inclined to move these commodity workloads on to cloud like Business Productivity Office Suite (BPOS). Then there is a third trend where CIOs are increasingly looking at optimising their data centre investments.

They started out with virtualisation but now that whole thinking is moving from virtualisation to private clouds. In such a scenario, there may not be significant cost advantages but there would be efficiency advantages. Most large enterprises which have already made significant data centre investments are excited about the private cloud.

Cross-posted from CTO Forum

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