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Microsoft's big Azure announcement is a Cloud in a Box

Simon Bisson | Oct. 21, 2014
Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella and Cloud and Enterprise EVP Scott Guthrie used an event in San Francisco today to give an update on its Azure cloud platform, launching its on premises Cloud Platform System and the Azure Marketplace, where ISVs and developers can sell services and applications to Azure users.

According to Vijay Tewari Principle Program Manager for CPS, Microsoft's customers are asking "I want my cloud and I want it now", but almost 80% of the resulting private cloud projects are failing. That's because customers were looking for what Tewari called a "magic cloud", where everything just happens. They weren't expecting all the work that's actually needed to run a cloud.

There's a question of what a private cloud should be, and what it should deliver. That's meant working with Microsoft's public cloud services, Bing, Hotmail, and Azure, to learn just what's needed to build and run a cloud service. The CPS team also considered the trends that were driving businesses to using their own cloud services. At the heart of things was the need to offer consumer grade services, as their users were familiar with services like Facebook and Gmail, and were expecting the tools they used at work to work the same way. But existing processes and technologies got in the way of IT departments, blocking them from responding in an agile way.

Users are expecting the same level of service they get from the public cloud, where when Gmail goes down, it is headline news. They want self-service portals, something Tewari described as being somewhere, "I should be able to walk up to it to tell it to do things in the way I want them." Sure, it's instant gratification, but that's what users want.

There's also a deeper set of requirements, where the move away from the traditional separation of developers and operations means that developers want programmatic access to infrastructure with APIs to help them handle scaling issues or server deployment.

Putting all that together means that Microsoft needs to deliver a system that offers what Tewari calls "a validated system architecture, from top to bottom; from the individual disks we use in storage, all the way up to the portal we expose to the customer." It's a very different way of working from Microsoft's traditional customer relationship, as it means delivering a lot more than software, with hardware that has a supply chain behind it and that's aware of failures, while still able to continue operating. After all, if there's one thing we know about IT, it's that things are always going to fail, whether hardware or software.

As Tewari says, "Humans get in the way, they're the least predictable thing in any system. You need to automate your way out, don't depend on a human reading a set of instructions." He describes the result, a resilient system that's deployed in a known boot state and configured in accordance with best practices, as one where "Any time you touch the system, you do it through automation." The aim is to keep the system in the state in which it was initially booted.

 

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