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Russinovich: Microsoft 'Squeezing' Amazon in the Cloud

The famous engineer takes direct aim at Amazon Web Services.

When it comes to cloud computing, Microsoft's goal is clear: Redmond is "in it to win."

That was the main message from Microsoft Technical Fellow Mark Russinovich at his keynote address during the TechMentor conference on the Microsoft campus. He emphasized that growing use of the Microsoft Azure cloud service, rapidly expanding features and a price war is putting the squeeze on cloud market leader Amazon Web Services (AWS).

Russinovich hailed the advantages Microsoft believes it has over AWS, perhaps reflected in Amazon's latest quarterly earnings, which may have disappointed and rattled investors.  "Amazon Web Services is struggling in the face of pricing pressure by us and Google," Russinovich said.

Indeed, market researchers last month pointed to Microsoft and IBM as having gained the most ground on Amazon in the public cloud. When asked how many TechMentor attendees have logged into the Microsoft Azure Portal, only about one quarter of the IT pros in the audience said they have.

Pointing to the growth of Azure, Russinovich revealed recent figures showing that it hosts 300,000 active Web sites and 1 million active database services; in addition, the Azure Storage service has surpassed 30 trillion objects with 3 million active requests per second at peak times. Russinovich also said 57 percent of the Fortune 500 are using Azure. Azure Active Directory, which organizations can federate with their on-premise versions of Active Directory, now has 300 million accounts and 13 billion authentication requests per week.

Russinovich emphasized Microsoft's advantage with Azure Active Directory and the cloud service's emphasis on identity. "Azure Active Directory is the center of our universe," Russinovich said. "When you take a look at all the places where you need identity, whether it's a [third-party] SaaS service or whether Microsoft's own like Office 365, you look at custom line of business apps that enterprises are developing and they want to integrate their own identity services."

Throughout his talk, Russinovich emphasized Microsoft's focus on its hybrid cloud delivery model and the security layers that can extend to the public Azure cloud. To that point, Azure Active Directory's role in supporting hybrid clouds is to supports ways to "foist identities to the cloud so that they're accessible from all of these targets, line of business apps in the cloud and Microsoft's own cloud platforms."

The primary way to achieve that is to federate an Azure Active Directory tenant with on-premise Active Directory service, he said. "What that means is when someone goes and authenticates, they get pointed at Azure Active Directory in the cloud. Their identities are already there and the authentication flow goes to an Active Directory federated server on premises that verifies the password and produces the token." It uses OAuth 2 for authentication, he said.

Microsoft plans to integrate OAuth 2.0 into Windows Server and all Azure services, though Russinovich noted it supports other token services such as SAML and other identity services from the likes of Facebook, Google and others.

One area of Azure Microsoft needs to deliver on is role-based based access control, which is in preview now, Russinovich said. "This will be fleshed out so we have a consistent authorization story all pointing to Azure Active Directory, which lets you not just connect on premises to Active Directory through ADFS, but these third-party consumer services as well. That's a key point, you want identity to be enabled in the cloud," he said.

When it comes to the public cloud, Russinovich emphasized significant demand for cloud services such as storage and disaster recovery. Russinovich demonstrated a few offerings including the new Azure ExpressRoute, which through third-party ISPs and co-location operators can provide high speed dedicated private connections between two data centers using Azure as a bridge, or to connect directly to Azure. Other demos included Point to Site VPN and Web apps using Azure.

About the Author

Jeffrey Schwartz is editor of Redmond magazine and also covers cloud computing for Virtualization Review's Cloud Report. In addition, he writes the Channeling the Cloud column for Redmond Channel Partner. Follow him on Twitter @JeffreySchwartz.

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