Microsoft Takes Windows Azure to the Feds

Microsoft's software-plus-services strategy, which covers areas ranging from on-premises software to full-blown public and private cloud services, is nowhere more evident than in the company's approach to the federal sector.

WASHINGTON-Microsoft's "Software + Services" strategy-delivering bits to customers in a variety of ways, from on-premises software to full-blown public and private cloud services-is nowhere more evident than in the company's approach to the federal sector.

Perhaps it is because of federal rules, regulations, procurement policies and whatnot, but in the federal sector, Microsoft's strategy, which many have criticized as blurry if not over-hyped, becomes as clear as a cloudless day.

At a FedScoop Cloud Computing Shoot Out here on Dec. 8, Susie Adams, Microsoft's CTO for the federal sector, and Yousef Khalidi, a Microsoft distinguished engineer and member of the founding team that created the core of Microsoft's Windows Azure cloud platform, helped deliver some of that clarity.

In back-to-back conversations with eWEEK, Adams and Khalidi laid out the Microsoft plan to deliver software across the "full spectrum," from on-premises IT to the cloud-including private cloudlike environments-and to take the lessons learned in doing so and parlay those back into the product and services lines.

"We're taking our learnings from the process of building Azure and putting that back into the Windows Server product and our other technology," Khalidi said.

Moreover, "We fundamentally don't believe that private clouds are going to go away," Adams said, noting that certain agencies with sensitive information and workloads will never want to see that stuff in a public cloud environment.

Although Windows Azure is a public cloud technology, "We have dedicated offerings-dedicated clouds [if you will]," Adams said. This consists of a dedicated network pipe, computing services that Microsoft runs, and the customer "manages who gets access and we run it for them."

This dedicated model has been around in the federal space for about two years, Adams said. Meanwhile, Windows Azure has been around as a technology preview for a year, "and we have several federal customers using it in preview mode," she said.

A Windows Azure appliance?

But what will Microsoft do to deliver Windows Azure for private cloud environments?

"I can tell you what we won't be doing. We have not announced an Azure appliance," Adams quipped. "We'll take the learnings with the move to the cloud and include those changes in the products we ship-so our customers and partners can do private cloud environments."

As examples of the "learnings" from the move to the cloud finding their way into Microsoft products, Adams cited Exchange and Windows Server.

"Exchange 2007 was not built from the ground up to be multitenant, but after the lessons we learned in working in the cloud space, we looked at what we should do with Exchange 2010 and we built it from the ground up to be multitenant. And the same goes for SharePoint and all of our other platform products. And with Windows Server we added another piece to this that allows it to be elastic," she said, speaking of the AppFabric technology Microsoft announced at its Professional Developers Conference in Los Angeles in November.

Regarding the evolving programming model for the cloud, she said, "We're trying to take it up a layer ... so developers can write their apps using PHP, Python, Ruby, Java or whatever. That's really the value of platform as a service and that's where Azure's value is. The government sees the value in traditional infrastructure as a service and they see this as a way to add innovation."