Microsoft's Server and Tools Chief Talks Up Cloud, SaaS Products

The president of Microsoft's Server and Tools Business Division, Satya Nadella, answered questions about cloud computing on Wednesday in a 15-minute Q&A at the GigaOM Structure event, taking place in San Francisco.

Many of the questions focused on Microsoft's business model for Windows Azure and on Office 365, Microsoft's forthcoming SaaS business that is currently in beta. Office 365 will get a "preview" rollout on Thursday and become generally available on June 28.

Nadella, who took over the role of Microsoft's Server and Tools chief in February, noted that the IT industry is in the midst of a "sea change" from the client-server world to a connected world of mobile devices and connected services.

The shift is still in the early stages, Nadella said, but the OS on the back end now no longer focuses on a single machine. Instead, the focus is on a datacenter with 250,000 machines and a million cores. Mean time to failure is no longer the approach to build for since the guiding principle has shifted to building for mean time to recovery. The OS has to be resilient, he added.

Nadella was asked about any stumbling blocks that might exist in businesses moving to widespread cloud adoption. He cited reliability/availability, security and compliance as the top three concerns, but those concerns aren't universal since organizations use mixed environments, such as public clouds, private clouds and a hybrid approach.

Next, Nadella was asked pointedly whether security might be the largest concern for organizations considering cloud services.

"It's really the soft core versus the hard shell [traditional approach to security], which is as much of an issue wherever you are -- it can be in the enterprise, it can be in the hybrid, or it can be in the public cloud," Nadella said. "So I would claim that it all comes down to having a lot of compliance that enterprises are putting in place or the public cloud folks are putting in place. And then having great encryption technology for anything that's moving over the wire. The extreme management is a big issue because that's sort of the thing that can easily be compromised. So I think security will remain a big topic for the industry at large, but it's not just primarily a cloud issue. It's an issue today for anyone with any kind of network."

The cloud is being used in a hybrid manner by businesses to support Web site transactions, while still calling back home for things like identity, data and synchronization, Nadella said. He cited the example of Ticketmaster in New Zealand, which used Windows Azure to spin up databases for some of the more popular ticketed events.

In terms of Microsoft's SaaS offerings -- both its Business Productivity Online Services and Office 365 -- Nadella said that "over 50 percent of the Fortune 500 businesses that have used us are now using our online offerings." He added that "tens of thousands of customers are playing with [Windows] Azure."

Nadella was asked whether the cloud represents an opportunity or a threat for Microsoft. He said that Microsoft has always sought out the low-price, high-volume market, so the cloud is structurally beneficial for the company and not a threat. He saw some overlap with the various cloud providers, as with Amazon Web Services, which is a Microsoft partner. To the extent that people might use multiple clouds, that would be the kind of case where Microsoft's approach would be to form partnerships, he explained.

The commoditization that may occur with cloud computing, with its value proposition of reducing costs for enterprises, will not necessarily lower Microsoft's revenues, Nadella contended. He expects cloud computing to increase the appetite of organizations for the consumption of data.

Nadella's talk was just a small part of the GigaOM Structure event. A live stream of the event can be accessed here.

About the Author

Kurt Mackie is senior news producer for 1105 Media's Converge360 group.


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