In-Depth

Microsoft Azure Q&A with Corey Sanders

How did Azure get to be the No. 2 public cloud platform, and other questions for an Azure executive.

Corey Sanders has been a member of the Azure team for seven years and Microsoft for 12 years. He is currently the partner director of Product responsible for compute on the Azure team. This includes Windows VMs, Linux VMs, Service Fabric, Event Hub, Service Bus, Batch Computing and the compute technology supporting large internal Microsoft services like Bing.

This Q&A has been lightly edited for clarity -- Ed.

Virtualization Review:
Early in Microsoft Azure's existence, did you think that it would grow the way it has, all the way to the No. 2 public cloud platform?

Corey Sanders: It is always exciting to see success of a product you work on, watching it grow from one datacenter to 34 announced regions. But, at the beginning of Azure, given the conversations we had with customers on cloud opportunities, we did expect to see a very fast growth of Azure. This growth took constant innovation, as [well as] learning from customers, coupled with years of experience operating cloud datacenters and delivering more than 200 public cloud services, such as Xbox Live, Outlook.com, Office 365 and Bing. It will be even more exciting to see the next wave of growth coming from the opportunity and deployment of customers and partners.

What's surprised you most about Azure's growth curve?
The growth in Azure has spanned a surprising range of services, solutions and products. With nearly one-third of our virtual machines running Linux, more than 40 percent of our revenue from start-ups and ISVs, and that 85 percent of the Fortune 500 have the Microsoft Cloud, we are seeing growing usage from a wide variety of customers. Whether enterprise or start-up, Windows or Linux, I am constantly surprised by the level of diversity of our customers and their solutions.

Can Azure surpass Amazon Web Services (AWS)? Our ambition is to provide customers with the path to the intelligent cloud so they can transform and differentiate their businesses no matter where they are in their cloud journey. For us, that means meeting customers where they are. In order to do this, Azure offers the best platform support for open source partners like Red Hat, Docker, Mesosphere and others. Azure also offers the only true hybrid cloud experience that is consistent across public cloud and on-premises. Of course, it also means making Azure available in more regions around the globe than any other provider.

What are biggest challenges that Microsoft is currently addressing with Azure?
One of the most important challenges for us when we first launched the Azure platform five years ago was delivering a compelling and powerful platform for a large customer base. In order to meet the needs of these customers, we included support for Linux and focused on building out a complete open source platform. As we continue to grow, we are constantly learning and maturing our open source offering, with increasing Linux offers like Red Hat support, and Linux-based higher-level services, like the Azure Container Service.

Was opening up Azure to non-Windows OSes the key to its growth?
Absolutely. According to Forrester Research, more than 40 percent of CIOs view adoption of open source technologies as critical for them in the next year -- primarily because of low cost, avoidance of vendor lock-in and agility. In my conversations with customers, I hear constantly that flexibility and choice are important. We want to allow customers to use the tools, technologies and platforms they're comfortable with, whether those are Windows or from the open source community.

What new Azure features are customers most asking for?
As customers move more of their infrastructure into Azure, being able to manage their hybrid environments in a simple and secure way is a top customer priority and a frequent request. The Operations Management Suite (OMS) offers a really differentiated option for customers to be able to monitor, back up, and secure their applications whether running in Azure or on-premises. Furthermore, more customers are actively looking at deploying across multiple clouds, and OMS offers a unique opportunity to manage instances across multiple clouds.

Are we at the point where there is no workload that can't be safely run in public cloud?
We take a comprehensive approach to how we protect, detect and respond to security threats. To support this approach, we invest more than $1 billion in security research and development every year, and we're constantly innovating. We recently announced the general availability of Azure Security Center, which provides customers around the world with security management and monitoring capabilities for the millions of resources they run in Microsoft Azure, helping them keep pace with rapidly evolving threats in ways they likely could not achieve in their own datacenters.

However, we understand that there will continue to be customers who don't want to run all their workloads in the cloud for a variety of reasons, including compliance, data sovereignty or regulatory concerns. That's one reason we're so invested in delivering a true hybrid experience via Azure Stack, which brings the rapid innovation, scale and flexibility of the public cloud to a customer's datacenter.

Are containers, virtual machines or a mix of both the best answer for public cloud, and why?
VMs are well understood and broadly adopted today.There is a range of virtualization technologies that each have different characteristics around performance, compatibility, portability and more. Within this range of options, containers are increasingly gaining traction as a way to spin up lightweight, high-density, portable apps.

At Microsoft we believe in investing in that idea of choice. That's why our offerings span a gamut of development and deployment choices for our customers' workloads, from Windows Server Containers and Hyper-V Containers, to virtual machines.

What is the most-overlooked thing about Azure that you wish customers -- and potential customers -- knew about?
One thing we talk about, but perhaps not everyone knows, is that Microsoft is the only vendor recognized as a leader across Gartner's Magic Quadrants for IaaS, PaaS and SaaS solutions for enterprise cloud workloads. We are in a unique position with our extensive portfolio of cloud offerings designed for the needs of enterprises, including SaaS offerings like Office 365, CRM Online and Power BI, and Azure IaaS and PaaS. Our cloud vision is a unified story that we're executing on with the same datacenter regions, compliance commitments, operational model, billing, support and more. The ability to deploy and use applications close to data, with consistent identity and a shared ecosystem, means greater efficiency, less complexity, and cost savings.

About the Author

Keith Ward is the editor in chief of Virtualization & Cloud Review. Follow him on Twitter @VirtReviewKeith.

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