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Q&A with Microsoft's Bob Muglia

Bob Muglia, previously the senior vice president of Microsoft's $13 billion Server and Tools Business, has now been named president of that group, Microsoft announced today.

We talked with Muglia in early December about Windows Azure and why he thinks it is the next-generation developer platform. Here is the transcript of the Q&A:

The general perception is that Microsoft is lagging behind some competitors in delivering a cloud strategy. What can you do to fast-track the adoption of Windows Azure among developers?
First, the idea we're behind is an amazing concept given how early everything is -- the market has clearly not moved to these cloud-based services. The market is still very much an on-premises market, but we'll move very quickly with Windows Azure. Because it's a services platform, it enables us to bring things out on a more regular release cycle than when we have to work with our customers to get them to install and deploy something.

Developers using Azure are optimistic about it, but they have questions about the target audience. Who do you see adopting it first?
The reality is, a Web services platform like Azure is as broad in its target as Windows or Windows Server is -- it ultimately targets everybody. But we'll focus on a couple of audiences initially. We're definitely going after Web start-ups and hobbyist sorts of developers -- those people that think they can put something together quickly, get it running and see what the product can do. We're also going after some people who need to solve very substantive problems that major businesses have today, particularly those working with a wide variety of different suppliers or customers, and that need to connect across to multiple organizations.

Is there any overlap with the Azure Services Platform and your existing SOA initiative?
Well, there's a lot of consistency between the two, is the way I would put it. At the PDC [Professional Developers Conference 2008] I talked about the services platform being the fifth generation application platform. The first was the monolithic application platform, then client-server, Web, Web services or SOA, and then [cloud] services. What we see is a lot of evolution between the SOA platform and services platform. So Azure, in the context of the SOA applications people have built, as they modify them to take advantage of the scale-out characteristics of Azure, they can reuse a great deal of the work they've done.

How will IT change with cloud computing?
The biggest characteristic that the services platform movement will have [on IT departments] is the reduction in people and time spent to maintain IT applications. The vast majority of IT dollars get spent running the operation. The reason services platforms are different is they're architected to not need that sort of human intervention to keep them running. You can outsource those costs to India for now and save a few bucks, but you won't save that much in the long run because costs worldwide are equalizing to some extent.

Will it be mandatory for IT shops to house Azure in Microsoft data centers?
We're hosting them in Microsoft's data centers, but we've also said we will take these same concepts we're building in Windows Azure and build them back into Windows Server and our packaged products. So the same benefits begin to accrue to IT as they run their businesses inside their own data centers or our partners' data centers. The same concepts that Azure will bring to the way applications are built and the services orientation to writing applications will exist in Windows Server, SQL Server, System Center and all of our products over time.

Another criticism of Windows Azure is that Microsoft's approach is too closed, too Windows-centric.
First, remember Windows is the most broadly used platform on the planet and we can run a wide variety of different applications and application-programming models. We've talked about support for PHP and a whole set of different environments in the Azure platform. So I think we'll be very open. But not surprisingly, our focus is running Windows and Windows applications regardless of what platform they're built on.

VMware claims its technology can accommodate many different workloads and environments. Some analysts say the company has a more flexible approach than Microsoft.
Clearly I don't agree. The products we ship today -- whether it's Hyper-V or System Center-support Linux and a wide variety of different environments. We have a great deal of heterogeneous support in our existing products. In fact, we manage VMware; they don't manage Hyper-V. Our approach to heterogeneity has been quite open and broad in ways that VMware has not been willing to embrace.

The other point that's important to emphasize is you can't solve the problems related to reducing the cost of ownership and the labor that goes into an IT operation with just the virtualization layer. VMware has a hammer and so everything looks like a nail. Those technologies are implemented at the application layer, and VMware has no assets in that space.

Is the challenge for developers going to be how to build services, or is it more about what services to build?
Everything will have to mature from a software and services perspective, and from the perspective of a developer understanding how to build these applications and the time it will take. There are only several instantiations of scale-out services applications on the planet. I'm pretty confident Google built one when they built their search engine. We built one when we built our search engine. I suspect Amazon has something in the way they built their entire shopping experience and probably Yahoo! has one. So we're talking about a handful of major applications that have been built using this scale-out model I've talked about to reduce the cost of operations in these massive applications.

The problem is the talent to build this is very limited. A typical IT manager doesn't have the capability, and a typical development staff doesn't have the capability to do it ... Our goal with Azure and Visual Studio together is to take and infuse an application model with something that the average developer can use to build exploitive applications.

The prescriptive architecture -- which is based on Web roles, worker roles and data storage -- may present a challenge for some developers. Granted, it's an existing architecture, but it's not widely used, so it's a new way of thinking about things.
The thing that you'll see us doing over time is beginning to build that into the toolset so that it becomes sort of an automatic thing for developers as they're building applications to run in this sort of environment. So it becomes second nature for people to build these apps, just like it's now second nature for them to build Windows apps or Web apps. I mean, this is the architecture that must be used. You talk about what VMware and some other companies are doing -- you can't solve this problem unless you're operating at the application level. This is a strength Microsoft can bring to the industry -- to make that class of application development available to everyone.

How can developers use Windows Azure to extend the online versions of products such as SharePoint, CRM and Exchange?
The question is, how will Microsoft extend our existing applications by building them into the Azure framework and enable them to be used? We can open up the developer experience and make it easier for them to write Web parts to extend the hosted version of SharePoint, for instance, and connect it back to their online business systems they have on-premises. A perfect example is where companies can sign up for SharePoint-based portals in the cloud and our ability to provide the full development environment. Although without Azure our ability to do so is somewhat limited.

Will the SharePoint Services and Dynamic CRM Services that were announced at PDC be part of the Azure Services Platform?
Think of those as extensions of the platform. SharePoint is a great example of this: It's both an end-user-based application and it's part of the underlying application platform. Likewise for CRM. As you work on customer relationship management and you want to expose your business processes associated with that, that application does that. You can think of the Azure platform as providing a set of services that customers can use as they use hosted versions of CRM and SharePoint, and potentially for on-premises versions of those products, even integrating them together.

Has the community technology preview (CTP) been opened to a broader audience since the PDC?
It has, and we'll keep opening it up more broadly. Different services, by the way, will be opening up at different speeds. For example, we're opening up our identity services, the database services and the workflow services a bit faster than we're opening up our compute-based services, although those, too, are opening up quickly.

You have a range of different competitors for Azure, not all of them coming from the computer industry -- most notably Amazon. Some observers are impressed with what that company has done.
We have to give Amazon credit. [Amazon founder, Chairman and CEO] Jeff Bezos' team has done a very good job of pioneering many aspects of these services. They have some assets that they've built for their commerce-based applications they use internally. I view Amazon as a company we compete with, but who we very much treat as a customer. We also see opportunities to partner with them. Their model is different than many others, but my view is there are many hosting partners that we enable with Windows, and Amazon is a great partner in that context.

So you can see a relationship developing with Amazon down the line?
Oh yeah. In fact, we have a relationship with Amazon. They now offer Windows at a competitive price. A data point I love is that they offer Windows-based hosting for Amazon Web services at less cost than they offer Red Hat [Linux].

In North America and other places around the world they have fantastic logistics and distribution systems. We don't do that and you won't see Microsoft doing that any time soon. You can see areas where there are just natural complements to Microsoft.

Which competitors keep you up at night?
Ultimately, [those] who have some of the same resources ... in the services space. We clearly think of our primary competitor long-term as Google in this. VMware is a broad competitor for us. I think we're much more head-to-head competing on-premises with them right now than we are in the cloud. The cloud is nascent for both VMware and us. VMware has been the dominant supplier in virtualization but we're coming on real fast.

Developers who have downloaded the CTP are pleased with what they see so far, but Microsoft needs to finish telling the story.
You bet ... there's a lot more coming, baby! This is just the beginning. I remember the 1992 PDC where we first introduced Windows NT and it had a lot of promise and it was really early. Now you look at everything it's built on in the industry.

Do you have a time frame for when more information about Azure will become available?
At PDC next year, you'll probably hear something there.

What pricing model will Microsoft use?
You'll see three pricing models. Some services will be free [and] advertising-funded. You'll see a utility-based or subscription-oriented pricing model attached to per-usage fees for some services. ... You'll also see per-user charges for some services that are more user-focused, like you see with SharePoint and CRM. Those have a monthly user fee attached to them. The ones you'll see us filling in over time are the detailed usage-based or utility-based services. Chances are that's the way we'll do Windows Azure and our database services. The specifics will be announced [this] year.

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