Q&A: Microsoft Exec Bob Muglia On Cloud, Azure

Muglia talks about coordinating between the Azure cloud and the existing data center and calls the the cloud "the biggest thing I've seen in 20 years."

Charles Babcock, Editor at Large, Cloud

November 18, 2009

5 Min Read

Bob Muglia, president of Microsoft's Server and Tools Business, addressed developers attending the company's annual Professional Developers Conference in Los Angeles Tuesday. After his talk, he sat down for an interview with InformationWeek's Charlie Babcock, editor at large.

InformationWeek: The tone you've adopted toward "the cloud" this year is different than last year's, isn't it?

Bob Muglia: I think I talked about the scale-out application last year. The biggest piece of feedback we got after last year's PDC (Professional Developers Conference) was that we were bringing out a new mode of application development but not building a very good story around what it was all about.

We talked about SQL services last year. We weren't talking about how to coordinate SQL Server with Azure services. We were told by developers to make it easier to take the existing investments and bring them forward to Azure.

As we discussed it, we decided there are two ways to do that. One way is to take the existing legacy environment and figure out how to evolve it forward. The other way isto inject Azure approaches and technology back into the existing data center and adapt that technology as needed to the existing enterprise environment. We're taking the latter approach. It's a fairly radical step to do that. The challenge is doing it in some way that helps our customers. You don't just snap your fingers and turn today's data center into a cloud.

InformationWeek: You just established a new container data center in Chicago, didn't you?

Bob Muglia: Chicago is massive (300,000 servers). It runs Bing, Windows Live, Exchange Online… not just Azure. Just the bottom floor is all containers (rack mount servers fixed inside a shipping container). The next generation of container data centers will get rid of the roof of the data center. (They'll sit outside.) They will just put a protective fence around them."

InformationWeek: There's a next-generation container on the show floor?

Bob Muglia: In Chicago, we used the previous generation of container. The one on the show floor incorporates advances coming out of Microsoft Research. Our servers have no fans in them. Ambient air is drawn over a membrane onto which a small amount of water is released. I think it's two gallons an hour. The slow release of water drops the temperature of ambient air coming in through a system of louvers by 20 or 25 degrees and that's sufficient to keep the servers cool enough. You have to realize servers run comfortably at 95 degrees. Maybe you and I are not comfortable working at 95 degrees, but servers are.

InformationWeek: How do we coordinate between the Azure cloud and the existing data center?

Bob Muglia: One of the ways is through System Center (a suite of systems management products for Windows Servers). I'm really excited about a cloud service for managing desktops in an organization through an online service. We thought that would appeal to small businesses. Enterprises also find it a cost effective way to manage workers scattered around the country. The first version will be available next year.

InformationWeek: What is Azure's AppFabric?

Bob Muglia: AppFabric expands what we provide in the way of application services inside Windows. It can provide failover, data caching... It speaks to our approach to Windows that the application server is not a separate product. AppFabric helps scale out applications by creating and managing more instances…

InformationWeek: Do you think Microsoft customers are interested in the hybrid cloud, where a cloud-like operation in the private data center coordinates activity with a public cloud?

Bob Muglia: It's really early. Everybody is interested in understanding what the cloud is about, but it's really early for production systems (in the cloud). There'll be a transition over the next 5-10 years, I completely agree. I think the cloud will be as important as people currently think it will. Gartner has it at the peak of the hype cycle right now.

InformationWeek: Will your customers just use Azure or will they use several clouds?

Bob Muglia: They'll use several, to be honest. Big enterprises will not use just one cloud. Every application provider will have to provide its application in some form of cloud.

A group of global CIOs was giving me a hard time about application upgrades. They want that stuff transferred back onto the vendor. The cloud is one way to do it. (In the cloud, the vendor upgrades the application, not the customer.) You're going to see every application provider provide their software in different ways. I'd love to see all of them offer their applications through the Microsoft cloud, but they will provide them in other ways too. The enterprise will consume services from several sources.

InformationWeek: Active Directory supplying identity management to both the enterprise and the cloud user is a plus, isn't it?

Bob Muglia: Federated identity is so important. If an employee has been fired, you want to clear his identity out of multiple clouds all at the same time. That's a small example of the complexity of this environment. All services are important, but identity management is foundational; it's most important. Without it, these things are just toys.

InformationWeek: So "the cloud" looks like a real phenomenon at this point?

Bob Muglia: This trend is here to stay. This is the biggest thing I've seen in 20 years.

Unified computing platforms promise to consolidate everything and anything into a single chassis. Find out about that and more in Network Computing’s second all-digital issue. Download the issue here (registration required).

About the Author(s)

Charles Babcock

Editor at Large, Cloud

Charles Babcock is an editor-at-large for InformationWeek and author of Management Strategies for the Cloud Revolution, a McGraw-Hill book. He is the former editor-in-chief of Digital News, former software editor of Computerworld and former technology editor of Interactive Week. He is a graduate of Syracuse University where he obtained a bachelor's degree in journalism. He joined the publication in 2003.

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