Thoughts RightScale Annual State of the Cloud Report

May 2, 2015

In January of 2015 cloud portfolio management company RightScale Inc. surveyed 930 users of cloud services for their Annual State of the Cloud report.  The findings are both interesting and insightful.  Several key findings are highlighted here.

  1. Cloud is a given and hybrid cloud is the preferred strategy. According to the survey 93% of respondents are using the cloud in one way or another.  Further more than half (55%) of enterprises are using hybrid clouds – either private clouds or an integration with on premise solutions.
  • Savvy start-ups realize that public clouds can be expensive relative to self-hosting in an economy co-lo facility. Until traffic ramps to the point where the ability to immediately scale justifies it there is no urgency to host in AWS or Azure.
  • Public clouds are ideal for a variety of scenarios – unknown, unpredictable, or spiking traffic, the need to host in a remote geography, or where an organization has other priorities than to focus on hosting. Conversely self-hosting can be more economical.  Example, Amazon c3.2xlarge – 8 vCPU and 16 GB RAM (as of May 2015) is $213 / month or approximately $2500 / month / per server.  Organizations who already have an investment in a data center or have on premise capacity often find it cost-effective to self-host for internal applications.
  • Many enterprises are not surprisingly reluctant to walk away from significant capital investments in their own equipment. Hybrid clouds allow organizations to continue to extract value from these investments for tasks that may be difficult or costly to implement in a public cloud.  For example, high security applications, solutions which must interact with behind the firewall systems, or processing / resource intensive programs.

93% of Respondents Are Using the Cloud

  1. DevOps rises; Docker soars. DevOps is the new agile.  It is the hip buzz word floating around every organization.  According to Gene Kim, author of the Phoenix Project, DevOps is the fast flow of code from idea to customer hands.  The manifestation of DevOps is the ability to release code as frequently as several times a day.  To achieve this level of flexibility organizations need to eliminate bottlenecks and achieve what Kim calls flow.  Tools like Puppet, Chef, and Docker are enablers for DevOps.  In forthcoming surveys it can be expected that Microsoft’s InRelease (part of Visual Stuido Online) and Hyper-V Containers will have prominent roles in organizations that use the Microsoft stack.

DevOPs Adoption Up in 2015

  1. Amazon Web Services (AWS) continues to dominate in public cloud, but Azure makes inroads among enterprises. AWS adoption is 57 percent, while Azure IaaS is second at 12 percent.  (Among enterprise respondents, Azure IaaS narrows the gap with 19 percent adoption as compared to AWS with 50 percent.)  This is consistent with other market surveys – see Synergy Research Group Study from October 2014.
  • At this point the market has effectively narrowed to only two major cloud IaaS providers Amazon and Azure. While there are other offerings from Rackspace, IBM, HP and other non-traditional sources (i.e., Verizon) these seem to be solutions for organizations who already have a relationship with this vendor or there is a specific reason for going away from the market leaders.
  • There are certainly many other PaaS solutions including Google, Salesforce.com, Heroku (owned by SFDC). Similarly there are many SaaS solutions again including Google Apps, NetSuite, Salesforce.com, Taleo, and many other vertical specific solutions.
  • This respondent base is heavily represented by small business – 624 SMB vs. 306 Enterprise. Although Microsoft is working hard to attract start-ups the reality is that today most entrepreneurs chose open source technologies over Windows.  Conversely Microsoft technologies are disproportionately represented in larger enterprise.  While today AWS is the undisputed market leader Azure is growing quickly and can be expected to close the gap.  Microsoft is investing heavily in their technology, is actively reaching out to the open source community, and is making it apparent that they are not satisfied with being an also ran.
  1. Public cloud leads in breadth of enterprise adoption, while private clouds leads in workloads.
  2. Private cloud stalls in 2015 with only small changes in adoption.
  • Private clouds are being used for functional and load testing as well as hosting internal applications (i.e., intranet) where the costs and risks associated with a public footprint do not exist. It makes sense that where in the past organizations would have had “farms” of low end desktop PCs and blade servers in server closets that these types of applications have been moved to private clouds that are hosted on virtualized servers that can be centrally managed, monitored, and delivered to users more cost effectively.
  • It is interesting that the data suggests that the market virtualization infrastructure has matured and is not growing. The market leader in this space continues to be VMWare with Microsoft gaining traction in enterprises.
  1. Significant headroom for more enterprise workloads to move to the cloud. An interesting data point – 68% of enterprise respondents says that less than 20% of their applications are currently running in the cloud.
  • It will be interesting to see how his number changes over time. Reversing the statistic – 80% of enterprise applications are still run on premise.  This could be due to IT organizations heavy investment in capitalized equipment / data center.  It could be that the economics of a public cloud are still too expensive to justify moving to a public cloud.  There could be technical limitations such as security which are holding back cloud adoption.  Finally, there could be organizational prejudices against taking what is perceived as a risk to embrace the public cloud.  Very likely it is all of the above.
  • The role of a visionary CTO is to move their organization forward to embrace new technologies, break down prejudices, and find new and better ways to serve customers. Cloud vendors are working to make it easier for organizations of all sizes to adopt the cloud by lowering cost, increasing security, and providing new features which make management more seamless.
  • While this study does not provide any data on the breakdown of PaaS vs. IaaS it is a reasonable assumption that most enterprise adoption of the cloud is IaaS as this is by and large simply re-hosting an application as-is. PaaS applications on the other hand typically need more integration which in many cases involves software development.  Once done, however, PaaS applications are often more secure, scalable, and extensible as they take advantage of the hosting platform infrastructure.

Cloud Challenges 2015 vs. 2014

Finally, RightScale has a proprietary maturity model which ranks organizations comfort level with using cloud related technologies.  Interestingly the data suggests that nearly 50% of organizations have yet to do any significant work with the cloud.  This data can certainly be expected to change over the next 2-3 years.

Cloud Maturity of Respondents


Predictions 2015: CIOs Accelerate The Business Technology Agenda

February 21, 2015

At the end of 2014 Forrester published a short research note entitled “Predictions 2015: CIOs Accelerate The Business Technology Agenda.”  (The report is $499 if you get if from Forrester but Microsoft has apparently licensed the content to make it free.)  Some of the provocative ideas in the note include:

Many CIOs have the technical expertise and cross-functional business purview to help drive digital innovation, but they are too often still seen as the leader of a cost center.

This is the truth.   Not that it is much fun for anyone but for those of us in IT budget season is a constant battle for funding.  Many times the best outcome is level funding.  Generating revenue on our own would change the game.

Both consumer and business customers increasingly expect real-time access to connected product and service information. These expectations not only define customer engagements but also ripple throughout the supply chain — shortening product cycles, requiring more agile operational capabilities, and creating opportunities for new, disruptive digital services.

Even some of the smallest businesses – appliance dealers, car services, and even dentists offer on-line access to inventory, scheduling, and account information.  Larger companies that offer primitive or worse no access to this type of information absolutely stand out as laggards. Increasingly not only is the expectation that information will be on-line and accessible organizations without a credible mobile strategy are at a competitive disadvantage.

  • Prediction No. 1: CIOs Accelerate The Business Technology Agenda

There are a ton of buzz words buried in this predication including agile development, connected products, mobile services, and customer-focused governance models.  The reality that many of us live with every day is doing more with less.  Technology is lever to these new challenges.  For example, automation of tasks previously only done by humans can lead to dramatic cost and time savings.  Better, cleaner execution, using new development techniques (e.g., DevOps, automated testing) make it faster and more efficient for development teams to get code in the hands of customers.  Cross platform development is now realistic using tools like Xamarin.  Finally, highly reliable consumption based cloud delivery platforms are available from multiple different providers.  While the challenges have never been more formidable so too the tools at our disposal have never been more powerful.

  • Prediction No. 2: CIOs Unlock Data-Driven Business Opportunities

According to CSC there will be more than 35 ZB of data generated in the year 2020 – a 4300% growth from 2009.  It’s hard to visualize that much data.  Much of that information will come from the emergence of sensor data (think connected refrigerator) that has previously never been on-line or accessible.  While there will no doubt be new unstructured data such as this, traditional web and mobile applications (Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter) will continue to evolve and grow.  The dramatic growth of information calls for new solutions to make sense of it all.  Again there is cause for real optimism that technology is keeping pace; There are powerful NoSQL / NewSQL databases such as Cassandra, analysis engines such as Hadoop, and visualization platforms such as Tableau.  Many of these technologies are open source and most of the commercial solutions are reasonably priced – often tied to consumption.  One of the primary challenges is the imperative to get technology organizations thinking differently.  For example, it is fully possible to use Cassandra like a relational database but in so doing much of the value of the solution would be lost.

  • Prediction No. 3: CIOs Make CDOs Unnecessary

The notion of a Chief Digital Officer (CDO) is perhaps a role that exists in larger organizations.  Someone, whether it be a CDO or the CIO, needs to truly own the responsibility for protecting the organization’s customer data.  High-profile security breaches such what happened to Target, Sony, the US Army, and many others have made it apparent that this huge issue.  Organizations are under near constant attack from outsiders that at best want to put an offensive message on the home page and at worst want to hold it hostage for ransom.  Protection of data starts with penetration testing, applying best of breed solutions (FireEye, Palo Alto Networks), and aggressively patching vulnerabilities as they are found.  This all will maintain the status quo.  Forrester rightfully points out that the best organizations will find ways where the Chief Marketing Officer (CMO) will be tightly aligned with the CIO to leverage technology to move the business forward.

Become leaders of digital change – or be usurped. Somebody has to be in charge of increasingly connected and dependent technology for the enterprise.  Fast-cycle, tech-based innovation drives a coherent, cross-channel digital experience is crucial to succeeding in today’s markets. …  Are all CIOs up for the challenge? No.  But in 2015, any CIO who isn’t will be replaced by one who is.

As Zig Ziglar said “Success occurs when opportunity meets preparation.”


Cloud computing is as much a mindset as it is a technology strategy

August 21, 2014

An analogy I’ve used in the past is that were Marc Benioff (CEO of Salesforce.com – arguably the most forward leaning organization in the world of enterprise cloud computing) to acquire a business built around a collection of “stove pipe,” on-premise solutions one of the first things he would do is dictate that everything must to be moved to the cloud. Marc Benioff was one of the first CEOs to truly “get it.”  Everything his organization does is viewed from the lens of the cloud.

Increasingly, it is clear that there is a viable and economical cloud computing solution for nearly every situation.

800px-UNIVAC-I-BRL61-0977

Organization Size SecurityReq. Existing Investment IT Group
Entrepreneurs / Sole Proprietorships Basic $ None
Startups Varies $ Developer
Small Business (less than $1M in annual sales) Varies $ Shared
Small-to-medium Business ($1-$10M in sales) Varies $$ Maybe
Mid-sized Companies ($10M-$100M in sales) Medium $$$ Likely
Medium-to-Large Companies ($10M-$100M in sales) High $$$$ Yes
Enterprises ($1B+ in sales) High $$$$$ Definitely

* Columns are meant to represent typical situations

To some there are as many reasons not to embrace the cloud as there are to adopt it.  It is a matter of perspective.  Those positively disposed to a SaaS strategy will find a way.  Those who are not will find reasons (excuses) why it does not make sense, is too costly, or would be too much of a distraction.  Where there is a will there is a way, however, the size of the organization (which is often a proxy for existing investment) reasonably weighs on the level of difficulty of making the leap to the cloud.

Existing investment – For smaller entities or individuals there may be cheaper alternatives than hosting in the cloud, however, the effort associated with maintaining hardware and the ease of scaling are reasons why a cloud-based solution makes sense over the long term.  For larger entities and enterprises where there is an existing investment in other technologies such as a datacenter that cannot be easily abandoned, a hybrid hosting strategy often makes sense.

Security – A common reason cited not to use a cloud based solution is that customers demand a higher level of security than can be achieved in a public cloud.  Organizations like Salesforce.com and Google (Apps) have demonstrated for all the world to see that even the most sensitive information can be held securely in a public cloud.  Arguably, when properly configured, information in a public cloud is as well if not more securely held than in an on-premise solution.  Other than high security government data there is little information which cannot be “trusted to the cloud.”

Cost – The cost profile of hosting an application in the cloud is indeed different than if hosted locally.  There are less upfront costs and expenses are tied to usage.  For larger entities there is a material difference in how the costs are accounted. Cloud costs are operating expenses that need to be incurred in the current reporting period where much of on-premise costs can be capitalized and depreciated over a number of years.

Complexity – Hosting in a public cloud poses new challenges to individuals and IT organizations which may have become accustomed to owning their own hardware.  The concept of deploying to the cloud, ensuring proper security, scaling, and hundreds of other tasks are new skills that IT organization have to acquire.  Those that do will thrive.  Those that do not will be left behind.

head-in-the-sand

FUD – Fear, Uncertainty, and Doubt is an expression that has been used in the computer industry since the mid-1970s to refer to a technique used by those who seek to stymie the adoption of new technology due to a lack of understanding.  One of the first applications of FUD was by IBM sales people to undermine the confidence of buyers in their competition.  For those with a stake in the status quo moving to the cloud represents at best more work and a worst increased cost, down time, and frustration as they figure their way through new technology.

In reality Salesforce.com would likely never acquire a business so wedded to what they would view as an antiquated technology strategy.  When viewed in this way the degree to which an organization has embraced the cloud can be viewed as a competitive advantage or indeed a disadvantage.


Enterprise Adoption of Cloud Technology

July 29, 2014

Forrester recently published a research note on enterprise adoption of Cloud Technology.  The full report can be downloaded here from Akamai.com (after registration).  As the report was commissioned by Akamai who absolutely is not a neutral third party the results need to be considered with caution.  That said, there are some interesting conclusions.

  • Public cloud use is increasing across a number of business-critical use cases.

This is not a surprise.  Public clouds have become mainstream.  Amazon’s case study page is a who’s who of well-known traditional brand names including Hess, Suncorp, Dole, and Pfizer as well as newer technology oriented companies such as Netflix, Shazam, Airnb, and Expedia.

  • Cloud success comes from mastering “The Uneven Handshake.”

The gist of this point is that organizations have specific requirements (e.g., security, access to behind the firewall data, etc.) which may be incompletely fulfilled by a particular cloud offering.  In order to use a cloud solution it may be necessary to piece together multiple provider solutions together with custom “glue” code.

  • It’s a hybrid world

Most organizations that have been around for a while have an investment in on premise systems.  In addition to providing valuable services that work (think don’t fix what isn’t broken), they are known commodities, and are typically capitalized pieces of equipment/software.  In a perfect world oftentimes it would be cleaner to create a homogeneous configuration all on a cloud platform.  Unfortunately we do not live in a perfect world and many times cloud systems have to be made to co-exist with legacy systems for technical, cost, or other reasons.

One particularly interesting finding is that most enterprises are quite satisfied with their investment in the cloud.  This conclusion is illustrated in the following figure.

How well did your chosen service actually meet key metrics?

Enterprise Considerations

As organizations begin the journey to or expand their operations in the cloud there are a number of important considerations.  Each of these topics stands on their own and literally thousands of pages of documentation exist on each.  Here are some brief overview thoughts.

  • Platform as a Service (PaaS) or Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS)

In a PaaS configuration the provider manages the infrastructure, scalability, and everything other than the application software.  In an IaaS configuration the enterprise who licenses the software has total control of the platform.  There are pros and cons to both PaaS and IaaS.  PaaS can be very appropriate for small organizations who wish to off-load as much of the hosting burden as possible.  PaaS platforms offer organizations less control and less flexibility.  IaaS provides organizations as much control as they would have in a self-hosted model.  The trade off with IaaS is that the organization is responsible for the provisioning and maintenance of all aspects of the infrastructure.  Enterprises new to the cloud may find that there IT group is most comfortable with IaaS as it is much more familiar territory.  As the IT group is the one who answers the panicked call at 2:00 AM there conservative nature can be understood.

  • Picking the right provider

Google AppEngine, Salesforce.com, Heroku, and Amazon Elastic Beanstalk are some on the most well-known PaaS platforms.  Amazon’s EC2 platform as well as Microsoft Azure Virtual Machines are the two dominant platforms in the IaaS space.  (Azure has a rich PaaS offering called Web Sites.)  Rackspace also has very strong offerings as well – particularly in the IaaS space.

  • Platform lock in

With an IaaS model careful consideration should be given to the selection of technology components.  To a point made in the Forrester report interfaces between existing components need to be considered and configured to work together.  Further consideration should be given to whether platform specific technologies should be used or not.  For example, Amazon offers a proprietary queuing solution (SQS – Simple Queue Service).  RabbitMQ is a well-respected open source queuing platform.  The choice of SQS would lock an organization into Amazon where the choice of RabbitMQ allows more flexibility to shift to another platform.  Again these are trade offs to be considered.

  • Security

With enough time and effort public cloud technology can theoretically be made as secure as an on premise solution.  This topic is considered by the Forrester report.  They note “The most common breaches that have occurred in the cloud have not been the fault of the cloud vendors but errors made by the customer.”  Should an organization make the decision to hold sensitive business-critical information in the cloud a best practice would be to retain a subject matter expert in cloud security and conduct regular third-party penetration testing.

  • Global Footprint and Responsiveness

One of the advantages of working with a public cloud provider is that an organization can cost-effectively host their applications around the world.  For example, Amazon offers three hosting options in the Asia Pacific Zone alone and nine regions world-wide.  Hosting in another geography is on the surface attractive for improving response times for customers as well as complying with country specific privacy regulations.  For most organizations hosting in a shared public cloud is much cheaper than self-hosting in a remote geography.  Organizations should be aware that hosting in a given region may or may improve response times depending on how their customers access the service.  Your mileage may vary depending on customer network routing algorithms.  Performance testing using a service like Compuware can help identify how your customers access your content.  Similarly, care needs to be taken to ensure compliance with privacy laws.  For example, it is a well-known requirement that PII data from EU citizens should not leave Europe without the user’s consent.  A public cloud can be used to comply with this directive, however, should administrators from the US have the ability to extract data from that machine the organization may not be meeting the requirements of the law.

  • Uptime and monitoring

Finally, enterprises need to be concerned with up-time.  It is a law of nature that all systems go down.  Even the biggest, most well maintained systems, have unplanned outages.  Nearly every cloud systems has a distributed architecture such that rarely does the entire network go down at the same time.  Organizations should carefully consider (and test) how they monitor their cloud hosted systems and fail-over should an outage occur just as they do with on premise solutions.  Should an organization embrace a hybrid hosting strategy the cloud could fail over to the self-hosted platform and vice versa.


Economic Impact of Cloud Computing

March 23, 2014

In January I attended a webinar by Forrester analysts James Staten and Sean Owens on the economics of cloud computing.  The slides and recording of the presentation are linked here and here.  Although the research was commissioned by Microsoft and thus had an Azure flavor, many of the insights are equally applicable to other cloud platforms such as Amazon or Rackspace.  What was unique about this presentation was that it was targeted at economic decision makers vs. technology leaders.  The presentation is well done and is insightful.

The first part of the presentation has a good basic introduction to the economics of cloud computing.  With a public cloud you only pay for what you use, cloud platforms allow for development teams to self-provision, and perhaps most importantly, a public cloud allows an organization to instantly add capacity should demand materialize.

Although I am a huge proponent of public clouds there are pitfalls.  Some of the economic reasons NOT to use a public cloud include:

  • Ease of running up a giant bill.  There are horror stories of teams running load tests that accidentally leave a test server enabled and incur what Forrester referred to as the “shock bill.”  An, active, yet idle VM costs the same as one that is being used.
  • Not using existing investment.  The ease of using a public cloud makes it easy for local teams to “roll their” own in lieu of using existing infrastructure that has already been provided for them by their IT group.
  • Loss of control.  Public clouds are just that – public, and may not have the same level of security found in a hosted solution.  While the cloud provider may ensure that the operating system is fully patched they cannot guard against weak administrative passwords.
  • OpEx vs. CapEx.  Public clouds are almost always considered an operating expense where an on-premise solution is typically capitalized.

These issues should NOT be used as excuses to avoid public clouds.  Indeed there are “patterns” and best practices to ensure that the organization is making the best possible choices.

The second part of the presentation was insightful in that it culled out some of the indirect benefits or perhaps less obvious reasons to use a public cloud.  For example,

  • Cloud computing is cool.  Developers want to work on cutting edge technologies and availing them access to Azure / EC2 helps with recruiting and retention.
  • Public clouds push local IT groups.  Some organizations struggle with non-responsive / bureaucratic IT groups.  The ability to “outsource” hosting (for public or staging servers) puts pressure on IT departments to provide better customer service.
  • Geographic distribution.  Although not discussed extensively this presentation, services like Azure and EC2 allow organizations to host in a geographically distributed way.  This capability, particularly when combined with a caching strategy, is useful for improved performance for global customers and ensuring that an organization is compliant with local privacy regulations.

Forrester is a very careful organization and the economic claims in the presentation are no doubt true.  On the other hand some organizations may find that their “mileage will vary.”  Cloud computing is nearly always more cost effective than buying new physical servers.  A hybrid public/private hosting strategy, levering platforms such as VMWare and Microsoft’s own Hyper-V virtualization system, could be more cost effective for established entities with an existing investment in on-premise hosting.  Private cloud platforms support the convenience of self-service and dynamic growth but have minimal operational costs.  (There is a fixed, typically capitalized, cost to host the server.)  This type of solution is very appropriate for development and QA groups that need non-production servers.

Bottom-line for a fast growing start-up there is nothing better than having no hosting footprint yet being able to scale on demand.  For established entities the public cloud also makes sense but should be considered in the context of existing investments and used where it makes sense.


Microsoft’s Azure Stores

August 25, 2013

Microsoft Azure has historically lagged far behind Amazon’s EC2 in the market and in the hearts and minds of most developers.  Azure started out life as a Platform as a Service (PaaS) offering which pretty much no one wanted.  Indeed most developers wanted Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS) – like EC2 has had since day one.  The difference between PaaS and IaaS means that you can deploy and manage your own application in the cloud vs. being constrained to compiled / packaged offerings.  Further Amazon has been innovating at such a rapid pace that pretty much at every turn Azure has looked like an inferior offering by comparison.

In mid-2011 Microsoft moved their best development manager Scott Guthrie onto Azure.  Also working on the Azure project since 2010 is Mark Russinovich arguably Microsoft’s best engineer.  At this point Microsoft truly has their “A” team on Azure and they are actively using it with Outlook.com (replacement for Hotmail) and SkyDrive (deeply integrated into Windows 8).  Amazon EC2 is still the gold standard in cloud computing but Azure is increasingly competitive.  The Azure Store is a step in the direction toward building parity.  The Store was announced in the fall of 2012 at the Build Conference and has come a long way in a short period of time.  By way of reference Amazon has something similar Called the AWS Marketplace.

There are actually two different entities.  The Azure Store is meant for developers and the Azure Marketplace is meant for analysts and information workers.  My sense is that the Marketplace has been around for longer than the Store as it has a much richer set of offerings.  Some of the offerings overlap between the Store and the Marketplace. For example, the Worldwide Historical Weather Data can be access from both places.

Similarities

  • Both have data and applications.
  • Both operate in the Azure cloud

Differences

  • Windows Azure Store: Integration point is always via API
  • Marketplace: Application are accessed via a web page or other packaged application such as a mobile device; Data can be access via Excel, (sometimes) an Azure dataset viewer, or integrated into your application via web services

What is confusing to me why there are so many more data applications in the Marketplace than there are in the store.  For example, none of the extensive Stats Inc data is in the Store.  It may be that the Store is just newer and it has yet to be fully populated.  See this Microsoft blog entry for further details.

I went and kicked the tires of Azure Store and came away very impressed with what we saw.  I saw approximately 30 different applications (all in English).  There are two different types of apps in the store – App Services and Data.  Although I did not write a test application I am fairly confident that both types of applications are accessed via web services.  App Services provide functionality where Data provide information.  In both cases Azure Marketplace apps can be thought of as buy vs. build.

  • App Services: You can think about a service as a feature you would want integrated into your application.  For example, one of the App Services (Staq Analytics) provides real-time analytics for service-based games.  In this case a game developer would code Staq Analytics into their games which in turn would provide insight on customer usage.  Another applications MongoLab provides a No-SQL database.  The beauty of integrating an app from the Azure marketplace is that you as the customer do not ever need to worry about scalability.  Microsoft takes care of that for you.
  • Data: Data application provide on-demand information.  For example, Dun and Bradstreet’s offering provides credit report information, Bing provides web search results, and StrikeIron validates phone numbers.  As with app services Azure takes care of the scalability under load.  Additionally, using a marketplace offering the data is theoretically as fresh as possible.

Further detail on the Store can be found here.

All and all the interface is very clean and straightforward to use.  There is a store and a portal.  Everything in the store appears to be in English though based on the URL it looks like it might be set up for localization.  The portal is localized into 11 languages.  The apps do not appear to be localized – though the Azure framework is localized.    As a .Net developer I feel very comfortable using this environment and am impressed with how rich the interface has become – increasingly competitive with EC2 on a usability basis.

Applications are built using the Windows Azure Store SDK.  There is a generic mailto address for developers to get into contact with Microsoft.  There is also an Accelerator Program which will give applications further visibility in the Azure Store.

It probably not a bad point to highlight, in that Microsoft actually does have a third “store” of a sort called VM Depot (presently in preview mode) which focuses more on the IaaS approach, and the bridging of both “on premise” with “off premise” clouds with Hyper-V and Azure portability.

Finally, Identification technologies are also gaining a lot of focus, striving to unified the experience for hybrid deployments of on premise or hosted IaaS, when combined with Azure PaaS. The ALM model is also starting to be unified so that both Azure and Windows Hyper-V will be delivered by Development teams as defined packages – Databases as DAC’s; Applications as CAB’s / MSDeploy, Sites as WebDeploy / GIT, etc. with many of the features of Azure such as the Service Bus being ported back to Windows Server. Additionally, monitoring services are starting to unify to this model to define a transparent unified distributed service.


Azure pulls closer to AWS

May 11, 2013

It is no secret that Windows Azure has historically lagged far behind Amazon EC2 in the market and in the hearts and minds of most developers.  Azure started out life (in 2008) as a somewhat clunky 1.0 offering.  The initial Platform as a Service (PaaS) model was really only useful for running .Net applications in the cloud.  While the process was straight-forward and the applications worked well in the cloud, publishing the project to Azure was slow.  Further, once you had the project in the cloud it was not very intuitive how you could scale the application.  Finally, there was not much support for languages other than C#, VB.Net, or C++ or common frameworks like Drupal, WordPress, etc.

Things have really changed in Redmond and I am actually thinking that Azure may have actually pulled even with or even eclipsed in some areas Amazon.  In mid-2011 Microsoft moved their best development manager Scott Guthrie onto Azure.  Also working on the Azure project since 2010 is Mark Russinovich arguably Microsoft’s best engineer.  At this point Microsoft truly has their “A” team on Azure.

I used to say that what most developers was is Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS) – like Amazon EC2 has had since day one.  The difference between PaaS and IaaS means that you can deploy and manage your own application in the cloud vs. being constrained to compiled / packaged offerings.  I’ve not been a fan of PaaS based on my early experience with Azure, Google AppEngine, and Salesforce.com Force.com.  The common thread in all of these platforms was that you were by design limited in terms of your ability to manage the underlying platform.  If a particular technology was not installed on the platform you could not use it.  For example, AppEngine only supports Java, Python, and Go.

I’ve since changed (or possibly evolved) my thinking about PaaS.  As a developer I want to focus on delivering features to customers.  I would prefer not to have to worry about hosting as long as the platform gives me enough control to get my job done.  Hosting should provide easy deployment, ability to tune the application, ability to debug the application, and easily scale.  Azure’s initial PaaS solution was none of these.  In the middle of 2012 Azure began supporting a PaaS technology called Web Sites.  Web sites allow you to quickly and easily create a site, deploy pretty much any language to it, and scale it with only a few clicks.  Is so slick that it’s caused me to re-think whether I really need IaaS on Azure.  If I don’t have to why would I mess with my own VMs?  At this point Microsoft seems to have the best of both worlds (PaaS and IaaS) – a more mature version of web roles, web sites, and VMs.  Here is a nice comparison of the applications for each model and an analysis of the pros and cons of sites vs. roles.

Amazon has been innovating at such a rapid pace that pretty much at every turn Azure has historically looked like an inferior offering by comparison.  Again it would seem like Microsoft is not satisfied with also ran status.

  • One of the big things that was missing from Azure ability to connect to corporate networks.  Microsoft recently announced that they would be adding additional networking capabilities to Azure.
  • Amazon has for a while had a marketplace for products and services that are add-on offerings to AWS.  Microsoft announced a similar offering the fall of 2012 at the Build Conference and has come a long way in a short period of time.  Microsoft actually has two offerings the Azure Store for developers and the Azure Marketplace analysts and information workers.  My sense is that the Marketplace has been around for longer than the Store as it has a much richer set of offerings.  Some of the offerings overlap between the Store and the Marketplace. For example, the Worldwide Historical Weather Data can be access from both places.
  • Finally, and perhaps most significantly as part of their General Availability announcement for IaaS Microsoft committed to matching Amazon’s pricing on commodity services – compute, storage, and bandwidth.