Q&A with Azure’s Mark Russinovich, who says cloud’s a scale game and Microsoft embraces open source.
Mark Russinovich was appointed chief technology officer for Microsoft Azure cloud platform in September. He takes control of a public cloud platform which launched in 2010 and is now one of the ‘big three’ public cloud services, the others being Amazon’s Amazon Web Services and Google’s Cloud platform. Azure offers both Platform-as-a-Service and Infrastructure-as-a-Service alongside data management and other media services.
With a long and colourful history as a software engineer, his appointment marks Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella’s strategy of aligning Azure with the software and systems gurus who really hold the key to Azure’s future. Russinovich even spent time actively attacking Microsoft, spending his spare time looking for vulnerabilities in the then-new Windows NT operating system.
CBR managed to grab Russinovich for a brief chat at this year’s IP EXPO in London.
CBR: What is the state of today’s cloud competitive landscape?
MR: When we talk to customers and press and analysts, one of the questions that we get is ‘how do you compare to Amazon?’ What’s our differentiator? What’s our strategy? Sometimes, Google is in that picture too in that conversation.
First of all what I want to say is that when it comes to our perspective on this, really, those names that I just mentioned are what the public cloud is at this point. Anybody else that you think of that says that they’re offering public cloud or thinking of getting into public cloud, I think the game has moved past. It’s moved past anybody else even being able to compete. It’s moved past for a few reasons. One, it takes a while to get to this kind of scale and it takes a lot of time to mature. It takes a cultural transformation for any business that’s coming into cloud. Microsoft has been under this transformation for years now. We’re still undergoing this transition. Our sales force, our engineering systems, our engineering culture – all switching from box products to cloud.
Also, when you talk about the CAPEX for operating at this scale, many companies can’t even do it. So the question is how do we differentiate against those other two? One perspective we look at is hyperscale – on this one I think even now we’re differentiated against those other two in terms of global reach.
In terms of servers, we’re all operating in the same orders of magnitude at this point, but when it comes to accessibility of our cloud to different geographies and regions, we’ve got 17 regions in operation now around the world. We’re the only public cloud operational in China. We’ve got a whole list of regions that we’re going to be bringing online over the next year to two years.
So with 17 regions we’re two times the number of regions as Amazon and 5 times the number of regions as Google. It’s not what the cloud, it’s not why the cloud, it’s how the cloud at this point.
CBR: How are you pricing yourselves against competitors?
MR: So one of the commitments we’ve made publicly is that when it comes to infrastructure services we’ll price match Amazon. We haven’t said anything about Google – generally you see one of us move and then the others match just because if Google moves Amazon matches, then we match Amazon.
CBR: How can you continue these price drops?
MR: We’ve always known that these infrastructure services are really going to become commoditised, so that’s not how we’ve spec’d our business to be built. We’ve built around services on top. I’ll give you one example of a service on top, besides our own SaaS services like Office 365, which drives usage of the platform and creates value for usage of that platform and that we monetise in other way – Azure Active Directory. We have something called Azure Active Directory Premium services which is a value-add on top of the basic for-free Active Directory service. We also have machine learning as a value-add service.
CBR: Are you one of a number of new faces in a new Microsoft?
MR: Yes, definitely. If you look at my history I’ve always been a little bit of a disruptor and I speak my mind and this culture that Satya has set up – he encourages that kind of challenge of mindset, a growth hacking kind of mindset.
CBR: Can you give us an example of this?
MR: There’s a strong perception that we’ve got to overcome that is based on the Microsoft legacy of us being anti open-source or anti-Linux, but that’s a case where Azure has led the way in Microsoft in this transformation of a company that is ‘Windows Windows Windows’ into we’ll meet you where you want to meet. We’ll meet our customers where they want to be and embrace open source and open standards.
A concrete example of this in action is when we released a preview of our IaaS offering. We went out the door with partnerships with several mainstream Linux distributions to make sure they were supported on that Azure preview from day one.