An inside look at Microsoft’s booming cloud business

The ability to host Azure infrastructure on premise in a hybrid role is a key differentiator

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StorSimple and Stretch DB.  All of those share this concept of “keep your workload on-prem but use the cloud for some aspect of inexpensive storage to be able to burst to when needed.”  We’re seeing a lot of enterprise customers pick that up as an easy first step to the cloud.

Speaking of hybrid, you have introduced “Stack” that will enable customers to replicate their Azure infrastructure on premise, but how do you see customers using that?

When we talk with customers about deploying in public Azure, frequently they say they’re excited about getting that versatility but there are aspects of their workloads, aspects of their infrastructure, they want to keep on-prem, whether for compliance reasons or proximity reasons, or whether they just want that sense of control. 

Azure Stack enables all those scenarios without having to compromise on the API and the portal experience.  Customers can get that same Azure experience, that same Azure agility, but deployed in an on-prem situation.  The power of that hybrid story is second to none and we’re seeing a huge amount of excitement from customers. Stack is still in preview, but should be generally available by the end of the year.  

So Azure in the cloud is fully compatible with Azure Stack on-premise?

Fully compatible.  Obviously it’s built to run in a smaller form factor, but it’s effectively the exact same Azure components around API, management, PowerShell, Bash scripts, and so on.

If I have both and I want to keep most compute on-prem but burst to the cloud to accommodate order spikes, how hard will it be to achieve that?

The capability to burst will be very simplified by having a consistent experience between your on-prem deployment and the public Azure experience.  Your application will still need to support that type of bursting capability.  If it’s a scale-out website in the example you mentioned, and Thanksgiving is rolling around, that type of scenario will likely work very well between public Azure and private.  You’ll pay for the private environment with the Azure Stack purchase, and on the public side you’ll pay per minute based on whatever you use.

How do you keep data concurrent?

It really depends on the application makeup. For things like e-commerce sites there is something we call “eventually consistent.” You can spread your data across multiple regions and it basically catches up.  That’s a fine approach because, even if the data is off by maybe a second or two, it’s not a huge problem as long as you get transaction for the customer done. 

But other models will be possible as customers take advantage of the platform, and this is where those advance services become a valuable differentiator because, if you’re doing everything with VMs and dealing with data in the way you’ve always dealt with data, you’ll find that type of bursting a bit challenging.  If you’re taking advantage of some of the more advanced level services and you’re building your app to be more cloud-friendly, taking advantage of the services both on Azure Stack and public Azure, suddenly that bursting, that scaling across multiple regions becomes much more feasible.

Does the company view Stack as a way to help migrate people a step at a time to a full cloud deployment?

When customers approach Azure, whether it be for Stack or public Azure, being able to offer a full range of choices for whatever you want to do, wherever you want to do it, is what we think is different from anyone else.  Azure Stack is just one piece of that.  It enables people to get that full cloud power without having to move everything into a public environment.

When VMware came out with its cloud story I assumed it would take off because it was a perfect complement to the company’s data center tools, but it doesn’t seem to have worked out that way.  Why would your hybrid story be more successful?

We’re the only provider that has the ability to deploy fully managed, enterprise-grade resources on-prem while also having a full hyperscale cloud that spans up to 30 regions.  That combination is unique and really what customers are looking for.  They want that ability to grow in the cloud as their needs take them there, but also want the trust and enterprise focus they can get in an on-prem environment.  I don’t think anyone else has both.  Many other providers have one versus the other and I think that’s where we are really quite unique.

Azure supports both Windows and Linux virtual machines.  Can you give us a sense of how usage is breaking down?

One in four virtual machines deployed by customers is Linux. 

Has there been much demand for containers?

One of the exciting things with cloud in general is the rate of change and how quickly customers are picking things up.  Things like software-defined networking, machine learning and containers.  Enterprises are using containers for development and testing and to move those environments to the cloud without much change, which is an amazing step forward for the entire DevOps movement. 

The next generation of containers is changing the full app model into a microservices model, and we just launched a platform called Service Fabric as one example of that.  The idea is to build simpler and more agile applications that consist of more subdivided components versus large monolithic application components. 

Can you explain that in more depth?

It’s actually one of the things I own.  Service Fabric is our take on a microservice platform.  The goal here is to be able to take applications and subdivide them into smaller components, 15, 20, even 30 of these different components that each have

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