Monday, February 27, 2017

by Brett

Azure is Microsoft cloud service that competes with Amazon’s AWS. Many people first thought Azure could never effectively be a player in this market as Microsoft has not been well known for cloud agility. When Azure was starting, there was a lot of talk about playing catchup. My how a few years changes things. Azure momentum is massive adding ……. And supporting …… The rate of new features and services coming  into Azure is dizzying… Indeed, these days, Microsoft look and acts like a service first  company with ongoing successes win Office 365 and Azure. There is no shortage of new opportunities here as Microsoft rolls deeper support for containers, IoT, and deep analytics – topics you don’t normally associate with Microsoft, but you should. And that’s the biggest part of the problem for Microsoft. They have shown a willingness to risk the very core identity in order to remake themselves into a cloud and service company that also makes software.

In some ways, it’s not so far off base from what Microsoft said 6 years ago when Ballmer responded to SaaS (Software as a Service) with S+S Software plus Services. The story is really the same then as it is now, except that Microsoft can now really delivery on the Service part. At the time, Azure was just being born and BPOS (the team I was on) had not yet transitioned to Office 365. I was in a meeting with Ballmer when he bellowed that every group at Microsoft would have a services component. And years later – here we are.

Microsoft stopped pushing Software+Services pretty quick after they started it. Bur really, they only changed the sequence- it’s now Services+Software.

Microsoft’s secret sauce here is identity. A great many companies use Active Directory for to manage their organizations identities as well as control them with group policy. and with Azure AD, you can extend your on-premise identities to the cloud. This Microsoft on prem identy+ Microsoft cloud identity story is very compelling and give Microsoft a big leg up on any other cloud provider.

Finally, there are the services themselves. The billions of dollars spent on build out data centers would look silly if they weren’t actually executing a relevant vision while delivering services and scale. The task here is monumental. I mean truly monumental. People don’t understand the share scale of this. <some numbers>, yet Microsoft is delivering on this and is not afraid to redesign when necessary.

The Azure Resource Manager platform is a good example. Having built V1 (classic) of their Azure infrastructure, the lessons learned about scale and needs of the market required a new architecture framework [I'm speculating here, but what else would drive such an overhaul?]. So they rebuilt deployment and infrastructure system and it’s now called Azure Resource Manager (ARM). They are not cross compatible. Once again, consider the scale here, There is some ugliness here as all services in Azure are not available on ARM. You get the new portal or the old portal in unpredictable ways, depending. This is a changing scenarios, however as more services are folded into ARM.

The point of all this is that Microsoft is on fire these days. They have a vision, new leadership that includes the amazing Mark Russinovich + Scott Guthrie executing on all this and a not so small army of. The complexity of this is mind-boggling which is often enough to stop the train. Consider just the global aspect of this. Navigating the legal waters of delivering services in various countries all around the world. For example, in some countries, you can’t have voice over IP because it’s considered a government controlled telco. In other countries, you have to use DNS only in that country. Still others require that no data leave the country making it very difficult to figure out how to manage fail over in the event a data center is hit with an earthquake or fire. Then there's the billing for services of this sort which didn't even exist a few years ago. That entire platform had to be written from scratch. All of this is just part of the deal for delivering worldwide services.

But Microsoft has been shipping product to and delivering services to the world markets for decades. They have more depth in this area than any of the cloud providers as Microsoft business pre-dated the cloud. In this sense, Amazon and Google are the newcomers. They hoped that pure Services play would work to shut down Microsoft but that did not work out. Turns out there is a great deal of inertia in objects already in place (i.e. physical devices) and the promise of a browser only world, was more wishful thinking than reality. Google, which used to tout "no software required", now has its own OS.

I never believed in a browser only world as hyped by Google for one simple reason – browsers were never meant to deliver complex applications. Trying to turn a browser into a container for smart applications has resulted in host of technologies crammed into a browser context to try to get browsers todo things they were never intended to do. Need Flash? Need Java? Need Silverlight? Need <something to make it work>?”, I need a break. Some pretty impressive stuff is out there (WordPress, that’s you). But if you want a world of Warcraft experience – you need a smart client. 

Petty impressive, but is pale in comparison to what you can do on premise. And I don’t think they should push for parity.

In sum, while AWS has the lion’s share of business, Microsoft’s Azure has my vote to be ruler of the 5 kingdoms although it remains to be seen the impact of Google’s recent offerings. (And I have my eye on Watson as a specialized service that could be a monster).

The next question is how to get your data into the cloud and know what’s happening once it’s there. I'll discuss that next

Brett Hill

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