Microsoft's Cloud Chief on Windows Azure, Tools and More

By Darryl K. Taft  |  Posted 2014-02-05

Microsoft's Cloud Chief on Windows Azure, Tools and More

Microsoft named Scott Guthrie to the position of executive vice president of its Cloud & Enterprise division on Feb. 4.

Guthrie assumed the EVP position that was vacated when Satya Nadella ascended to the role of Microsoft CEO.

Guthrie, who is one of the company's most popular technologists and leaders, assumes the role on what Microsoft has described as an "interim" basis. However, his promotion was welcomed warmly within the company, with a strong following of folks hoping the job is his for good.

Known as "ScottGu," Guthrie is notorious for the red polo shirts he sports at events where he is a big draw in coding demos. Guthrie has spent his time at Microsoft in the company's developer and cloud groups. He worked his way up to the role of corporate vice president of the .Net platform in the company's Developer Division and later became the corporate vice president of Windows Azure, which he left for his new position.

Guthrie brings a strong developer focus and has advocated for Microsoft to adopt more open-source technology into its mix and to partner with companies born on non-Microsoft technology. For instance, he supported the hosting of Linux workloads on Azure. eWEEK recently had the opportunity to speak with Guthrie before the start of the new year and his new role. Here is a look at what Guthrie thinks about where Microsoft is and where it's going.

What's your stance on openness?

In our demos you can see that we try to integrate openness. We show we can build on an iPhone, we show our support for Chrome, and we have the Oracle deal we did in terms of enabling Oracle databases and middleware and Java on the platform. These are all example of how we’re trying to take openness and trying to reach every audience and recognizing that most organizations in large companies have a bit of everything in them. What the marketing team uses is different from the IT team and is different from the data analytics team and so forth. And we’ve been looking for great partners to help us better help our customers and, through partnering with us, to better help theirs.

Can you give some of the back story on how much your team was involved in the development of VS 2013 and VS Online?

One of the things that, having spent a decade of my life in Dev Div, and Jason Zander who is with me on Azure as well and used to run Visual Studio, I have a close relationship with the folks there. And one of the things I've spent time on since I've been in Azure is focusing on how we have a great developer integration story and take advantage the millions of developers who use .NET and Visual Studio today.  Over the last year in particular we had some good dialogue across the division and made some shared bets that you can see today and others you'll see in the future.

I think today we have a really differentiated dev test offering, with the ability to use your Active Directory credentials to have enterprise access control, to have visual studio integration inside the IDE, to have the TFS analytics and the Visual Studio Online browser editing support for Azure apps. Having all that come together is really starting to turn heads.

Can you get a little more specific about those shared bets and when they started to gel?

Some of the Visual Studio Online pieces and the notion of TFS as a service, Brian's been incubating for a while. He built TFS on top of Azure from the beginning. And the thing we've also done in the last 12 months was looked at how can we bring TFS as a service even closer to Windows Azure and how do we bring Visual Studio IDE even closer to Azure. And then we've been engaging with Erich Gamma and his team on how we can integrate some of the online code editing and the browser based tooling he's been working on and also integrate that into Azure.

So there have been investments going back years and then more recently we've put some of them together and integrated the Azure story.

Microsoft's Cloud Chief on Windows Azure, Tools and More

Speaking of Erich Gamma [a Microsoft Distinguished Engineer], how does "Monaco" hit you as a developer? [Monaco is the codename for a subset of Visual Studio that works in modern browsers.]

I think there are a couple scenarios for Monaco. One is the technology that Erich's built, I love the fact that it's designed to be pluggable. If you look at the editor, if you look at where we've used it, we've actually used some of the technology already with Windows Azure Mobile Services, which also has a browser-based editing experience inside the Windows Azure portal. It doesn't let you edit .NET code but it allows you to edit Node.js code. The cool thing is the way he built it it's pluggable and we were able to use it with Windows Azure Mobile Services, and SharePoint has been using it. And as it gets richer and richer there will be more kinds of scenarios you can light up.

In the next evolution of it where now he's integrated source control, he's enabling much richer IntelliSense and refactoring support directly inside the browser, which is pretty darn cool.

In terms of use cases, why would I use Monaco editor versus Visual Studio IDE? I think a lot of it depends. If I want to do a quick code edit change and I'm on a machine that doesn't have Visual Studio installed, it's super useful to go in and make a change, and push it live. So I think for a lot of professional developers that already have Visual Studio, having that ability from any device to quickly make a code change will be very useful.

I think also it's going to let us reach an even broader audience of people that don't have Visual Studio or frankly don't even use Windows. And now we've got an IDE you can use on the Mac without having to run Windows VM. You can use it on your tablet. And that’s going to start to push as the Team Foundation Service and Visual Studio Online gets richer on all the other things that Brian showed. And you can host inside Azure having Visual Studio that only requires the browser to work is going to become more and more of a core asset for us.

What are some of the highlights for Windows Azure for 2013?

It's been quite a ride and we're not done yet. It's nice, basically about every three weeks we have a new major release of Windows Azure. It's fun to be on this rapid cycle and the pace is increasing as opposed to slowing, which is nice.

In terms of highlights for this year there have been a lot. Our Infrastructure as a Service offering going GA [general availability] is a big one, all the networking capabilities that we've shipped, including the announcements around private fiber and direct connect support including support for MPLS at Equinix and AT&T is big. We've announced six new regions including China, Japan and Australia–two in each of those. And entering China for us is a major initiative. We're the first cloud provider to do it. We also announced our federal government regions (another two there). We've shipped Web Sites, we've shipped Mobile Services, we introduced autoscaling, we introduced monitoring support, BizTalk services, the MSDN dev test offer, we've done Active Directory, and we also added the SaaS management capabilities to it. And we introduced our distributed cache service. We also shipped our Hadoop offering.

The part that I feel the most gratified about is that if people asked what you were working on and you said Windows Azure they might say "what is that?" But it's different now. Like if you go to Silicon Valley or to San Francisco which has not traditionally been a Microsoft fan base, people are aware of Azure and what we're doing. I was at a New Relic event in San Francisco and it was great to sit down with people who didn't know Microsoft and have them open the conversation with what's going on with Azure and how we're giving AWS a run for their money.

People are saying we're clearly the No. 2 and we're gaining like crazy. We still have a very healthy respect for our competitors. And we're going to stay humble and very focused on pleasing our customers.

Microsoft's Cloud Chief on Windows Azure, Tools and More

The approach you guys have taken has not been marketing or an attack mode.

At the end of the day, code talks. And at the end of the day, code usually wins. At the end of the day, people are going to use the product that works best. For traditional enterprise vendors, the real danger of the cloud is as soon as you pay for what you use, an awful amount of enterprise software sits on the shelf. And suddenly the rules change in terms of licensing or usage and how you sell it.

So having a product that's easy to use, that's feature rich, that meets customer expectations and is moving fast… if you're not doing that you're in big trouble.

And it's not just about Azure, it's a whole portfolio of commercial products, whether its Windows Azure, whether it's Visual Studio Online, whether it's Office 365, we've made the transformation to a devices and services company. And we made that as fast, and probably deeper, than the transition we made in 1996 on the Internet. We added the browser to all of our products in 1996–sometimes superficial and sometimes deep. But if you look at the investment we made over the last two years in the cloud as a company, it's a much more major fundamental shift and a much bigger bet.

What do you think about where we are today with Azure and how much it jibes with what Ray Ozzie and his team set out to do and his vision for the platform?

I never worked with Ray on Azure. He left Microsoft before I joined Azure. I worked with him on client things and I had a good relationship with Ray, but I never actually talked to him around Azure.

One of the things that I think Ray was very farsighted on is the desire that customers have around the power of more platform as a service. And having more managed services that you're not having to, as a developer, maintain, patch, tweak and operate and that just work. I think that is something that all cloud vendors are starting to kind of pursue. And at the time when he was evangelizing it–I think Azure first went public in early 2008–that was a very farsighted thing.

I think one thing that the original Azure vision… I think if we could go back in time we would have introduced Infrastructure as a Service at the same time. I think one of the things we looked at was where is the market going to be six or seven years from now. And one of things that we've seen since we released our Infrastructure as a Service--I think Satya has been quoted as saying at least 20 percent of our compute is now IaaS–is both the desire of companies that want to be able to reuse their existing code or the flexibility that it gives you as an on-ramp.

And in some ways I think our PaaS story has gotten stronger because we can say we now have Infrastructure as a Service as well. Sometimes people would say, "Oh, but you're only PaaS," and they'd claim there was lock-in or whatever. But when you can say, "No, you can run any random piece of software you want, any data store you want, if you want to run this new NoSQL instance on this version of Linux, great, we support that." Then people tend to say great, now tell me about your PaaS stuff. Now that I know I can do anything, tell me why your stuff is better. And if I look at some of the PaaS abstractions we've done over the last 12 months, whether it's Web Sites, or Mobile Services or Media Services, those are examples of very pointy PaaS abstractions that we've seen huge uptake with. But I think we're going to see similar with BizTalk services and we're seeing more demand than we can almost handle on Hadoop right now–where people like the fact that it's open and using the existing frameworks in those cases. They can run Node or PHP with Web Sites or with Engine Yard. So it's what they know but it's provided as a finished service so they don't have to manage as much.

Microsoft's Cloud Chief on Windows Azure, Tools and More

So I definitely think the PaaS vision was the right long-term vision and at the same time I think that Infrastructure as a Service is probably something on Azure that we wish we'd done earlier. I think also there's a shift that's happening that where cloud is relevant is becoming increasingly not just large ISVs and large Internet services, but increasingly every company is taking advantage of it.

So I think the opportunity for us on Azure at Microsoft is the majority of our base that's currently using cloud is still relatively small. I think the cloud will continue to democratize and get infinitely bigger as we move from the early stage companies adopting it to the mid and later stages. And I think it's going to be a big opportunity for everyone.

How does all this added together set you up to compete with AWS?

I think we're in a good place right now. The team is executing in Agile. We did a bunch of mobile service announcements. It's kind of nice because it is kind of rapid and it has the team on its toes. And the quality bar goes up. The biggest thing for us is with the things like BizTalk and Active Directory, it shows us getting very pointy with a particular audience. We're getting to a point where we have these really differentiated services. Active Directory is in 93 percent of all Fortune 1000 companies and you can now easily use it in the cloud and integrate your security. That's a hugely differentiated capability. Likewise, the integration capabilities that we have is something that Amazon has not gone after, it's not something that Google I think will ever go after.

And now that we can tell a story that is not just around productivity–which we did with the Web and mobile releases, but also we can start to point to these pointed services that are hugely differentiated in the enterprise, I think we're starting to be in a different league than we were even six months ago where people can look and say no one has that but you.

For instance, we had Aaron [Levie] from Box onstage at Build. He has not always been complimentary to Microsoft, but the fact that we now have an opportunity and a service that's a win-win for both of us is a big deal.

You'll see us continue to refine the service and continue to build some of these unique assets, and that will help us to differentiate ourselves from the pack more.

So are you having fun? Are you in that place where you want to be?

I think so, yeah! Different people get motivated by different things. I'm kind of like the Marine that wants to be the first off the boat onto the beach. I like the impossible odds and the fast cadence and having to bring your "A" game to win. So I can say I'm off the boat and at least on the beach now. And it's fun. We've still got a long ways to go.

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