This is the first part of the interview with Mario Szpuszta, who works with Microsoft as Technical Evangelist for Windows Azure. Mario’s answers are stated with [MS], the questions are marked with [MMH]. The Interview is divided into several parts and will be published over the next weeks.
[MMH] Hi Mario, Thanks for your time to do this interview with you. Can you briefly explain the audience what your job with Microsoft is about?
[MS] Hey Mario! It’s great to get the chance for an interview with the Cloud Computing Journal and to meet you for that purpose again. Currently I am working as a Platform Strategy Advisor and Technical Evangelist for the EMEA Windows Azure ISV Incubation Team. In my role I do work with independent software vendors (ISV) to build new or migrate their existing products to cloud-based offerings running on top of Windows Azure. I work with the ISVs from both, a business as well as a technical perspective to help them being more successful in both areas! It’s indeed a very interesting job content-wise as we typically do see lots of different business scenarios our ISVs are thinking about as well as of course many different types and styles of architecture applied to their products.
[MMH] We see some Applications are fast when it comes to Cloud adoption, others are rather slow. What types of Applications do you see moving to the Cloud faster than others?
[MS] It’s hard to say, the world is very versatile. But reflecting a bit on the work we have done in the past year I see some characteristics with those ISVs who are able to move with their offerings to the cloud faster than others.
In case of ISVs you always have to look at their existing product portfolio. In that case I’d say if they have a big product portfolio that exists for a while now and they want to move with those products to the cloud it takes rather longer. It’s pretty clear because they need to look at their portfolio first and foremost from a business perspective. They need to see and learn, if and how they need change pricing models, payments, marketing and sales channels etc. Then there’s of course the technical side. Products that are on the market for a while do have some legacy that might be hard to be migrated to cloud-based environments. Of course Infrastructure-as-a-Service might help here but then it brings up the question if that’s really the most efficient way from a business perspective.
Then I’ve seen ISVs that complement their products with small, cloud-based add-ons. This is an extremely powerful way of moving to the cloud for several reasons in my opinion: it helps starting fast and small with a move to the cloud, it brings value to the existing customer base, it potentially will attract new customers and it can be done with a lower level of risk as opposed to migrating the existing product portfolio completely. Finally also for the technical teams it’s easier as that way they can get familiar with the cloud platform they’ve chosen in small steps while at the same time gaining valuable insights for eventual future migrations of existing products.
Finally there are startups. And here I can’t say which apps move faster to the cloud than others. Many of them are really fast in moving to the cloud as they most often start right away from the cloud.
Of course being successful is another topic…
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[MMH] Referring back to my last question; what in your opinion makes some of those Applications more successful than others?
[MS] Well, there are many factors that are in the play for influencing success. Definitely I don’t know all of them but those cases I’ve seen being successful as opposed to not so successful ones there were a few differentiators:
- Maybe apply different, broader approaches for sales and marketing.
- Going international and global instead of staying local.
- Go live fast and constantly deliver new, small features in short time intervals.
Let me try to find an example for each of the points I’ve mentioned. For example in Switzerland I’ve been working with a start-up where the investor itself is a marketing agency. Of course that’s great luck for them, because that agency is really good. Right before they went even live with a public beta they put an announcement-page live and applied Twitter, Youtube, Facebook and the like for true global digital marketing. It’s really cool as you find fairly funny yet professional videos on Youtube about their online service offering. Smart usage of wording and SEO got viewers to those videos and finally attracted people to sign-up quickly when they went live last spring with their offering. I think it’s really important to go beyond the traditional sales and marketing channels and approaches and apply such cool, creative ways. Of course that’s said easy. I mean, I would not be able to do that either. So you’d better work with a well-chosen agency that is good with such things.
Looking at Austria we’ve been working with a number of ISVs in very similar environments. For some of them it was too hard to go international or even global while others did. Although there were several reasons to not go international or global for some of those ISVs. But what I can definitely observe is that those who did the jump to the international market and that built up relationships with partners in other countries that help them selling their solution are more successful. It sounds obvious, but one thing these companies did when going international is to work with partners in the countries where they want to enter. Local resellers that do understand the culture, the local people and their expectations.
Finally one example for the last case I mentioned above. A story from a startup-ISV who entered in a very traditional branch with their software – logistics. In the country where they started this market was ruled by a small number of very well-known, traditional ISVs. They way how they put those traditional ISVs under pressure and really started becoming a true, important and competitive player on the market was simple. Go out with the fundamental set of features very fast with aggressive prices (cloud enabled them to offer aggressive prices through the low initial investment costs). Then deliver additional features in nearly a monthly basis. Small features, not big junks. But in a way where when their customers refreshed the browser the next time they just spotted a new functionality in their menus. That is pretty impressive and it truly helped them moving forward on the market fast and successful. Now, only less than 2 years after they’ve launched they are a known player on the market. I was so impressed by this approach – really cool.
Of course these are just some examples. Maybe others have different opinions on what makes someone successful or not. And these are for sure not the only factors, but in my opinion these are factors that do matter!
[MMH] There was a major release on Windows Azure lately. Can you give us a brief overview of the most exciting features and news in the new release?
[MS] Recently, in June 2012 we released the 2012 spring release of Windows Azure. Compared to the previous release in December 2012 it was truly a big step forward. Apart from many details such as load balancer probes, dedicated caching or new Visual Studio tools with side-by-side support for multiple SDKs there were a number of new services that we introduced.
First and foremost many people definitely realized, that we have introduced Windows Azure Virtual Machines, which is essentially true Infrastructure-as-a-Service on Windows Azure. It was formerly called persistent VM role because, obviously, the hard disks are now persisted across the lifetime of single instances or machines (as it should be for IaaS).
Together with Virtual Machines we introduced Virtual Network capabilities. These allow you to (a) create your own, virtual network for compute instances running in the Windows Azure data center incl. capabilities such as a private DNS and (b) enable you to create VPN tunnels between your virtual network in Azure and professional VPN routers such as those from CISCO (that is just one example of a vendor we do support). It’s fairly cool as that allows you to also build mixed environments where you combine Platform-as-a-Service with IaaS or even you on-premises services.
Then we have Web Sites, an offering for all of those that do build typical web site solutions with ASP.NET, PHP, node.js or Python for example. Web sites is a highly scaleable PaaS offering for typical web applications that do have the web app tier directly connecting to the database. So whenever you, for example, just have a PHP web site that directly connects to MySQL as a database and not through some kind of middle-tier components or app servers, then web sites is for you.
Did I say MySQL? Yes – indeed. Web Sites allow you to work with both, Windows Azure SQL Database as well as MySQL. Both available as a service where you just request the database and don’t care about the database server infrastructure at all. But where’s that MySQL-as-a-service coming from? Well, that’s another thing we introduced alongside with the spring release. In the past year we formed a number of what we call “platform gap partnerships” for Azure. One of that platform-gap partners is ClearDB (www.cleardb.com). ClearDB offers MySQL-as-a-Service on Windows Azure. So they do take care of operating MySQL in a highly available fashion in our data centers and allow you to just consume certain sizes of MySQL databases. And Azure Web sites are using that service from ClearDB to provide the MySQL databases. Another of those platform gap partners, for example, is AppDynamics. They do provide a monitoring and diagnostics service that can be used together with Azure-based solutions every developer can build. These are just two examples and we’re working with others to continue improving in areas where we don’t deliver services and components by ourselves.
Alongside with these platform gap partnerships we also invested a lot into the SDKs as I mentioned before. One thing I’d like to highlight here is the availability of an Azure SDK for Python. That SDK now makes it easier for Python developers to leverage some of the Windows Azure services, especially storage including BLOB, Table and Queue as well as Service Bus messaging.
Then there’s Windows Azure Media Services. Although announced a few weeks earlier, it belongs to the spring 2012 release. Media services is a platform that can be leveraged by all parties that do require professional media content production pipelines. In it’s first release it comes with an encoding service that developers can use to create different formats of videos to be provided to a variety of devices through their application. In addition the current preview of media services comes with on-demand streaming capabilities.
Finally we also announced Windows Azure Active Directory which will become the primary identity management service in the cloud. The formerly known Access Control Service (ACS) that is used to enable federated authentication across different security domains using standardized protocols such as WS-Federation or OAuth is still available and now is positioned as a part of Windows Azure AD. While ACS of course is GA released, Windows Azure AD services such as graph API are still in preview. Also Virtual Machines and Web Sites are still in preview.