The Conundrum of Cloud Computing Evidence

“Who is using Windows Azure? How are they doing it?”

I get asked this all the time as I speak to our clients when we mention Windows or SQL Azure as a possible solutions to an architectural problem the company has. I completely understand the question. I’ve worked far longer outside of Microsoft than here, and one of my roles as a Systems Architect was to select solutions from a range of possibilities. When you’re faced with a decision like that, it saves a ton of time if you can find out where others have done the same thing and what problems and successes they had with this or that approach. I’m not a marketing person, so I work with clients directly all the time, and so folks know I’ve seen the way others do things. And they want to know what someone else has done before they try it.

But therein lies the rub.

Most folks aren’t willing to talk about their internal infrastructure much. We talk about how we do things here at Microsoft quite frequently, and if you’re not using this resource, definitely go research what we’ve done. In fact, I don’t think I’ve seen many other technology companies with this depth of information. For instance, here’s a quick list of the areas we talk about on our internal systems:

  • BizTalk
  • Exchange Server
  • Internet Explorer
  • Lync
  • Microsoft Desktop Optimization Pack
  • Microsoft Dynamics
  • Microsoft Forefront
  • Office System
  • SQL Server
  • System Center
  • Visual Studio
  • Windows

  • And yes, Azure as you can see is part of that list - we’ve implemented it everywhere. But when I point out that we’re using IT resources just like any other company, I hear “yeah, but you’re Microsoft. You have lots of people to handle the systems, and you can just have the developer who wrote the software come over and fix it if it breaks.” Well, that’s not the way it works at all. When I got here, I met with some folks from Microsoft IT, and I was absolutely shocked at how few people manage our systems. From Systems Administrators all the way to the DBA’s, the ratio of technical resource to machines is really extraordinary, and I had far more folks managing systems for me in my other companies than we have here. And no, we don’t send developers to fix production systems “just for us”, although we will do that when we are using a beta of something that we haven’t even released to CTP yet.

    But even with this evidence of ourselves, clients want to “see how others are doing things with Azure”. We do have the customer evidence site, and we have lots of case-studies there. But many of these lack technical details, again, because folks aren’t always willing to share that. That’s understandable - for instance, even though Microsoft does it, I’m not sure I would have the Visio diagrams for my company’s applications posted in a public place. There may even be legal or competitive reasons not to do that. So as you peruse that list, keep in mind these are only the companies that are willing to talk in public about their experience - we have far more on Azure than this list.

    J.D. Meiers has a good blog post entry of a rundown of the companies that have released case studies on Azure. And be assured that we have a patterns and practices group that works with the teams here at Azure to make sure we apply what we learn as we help each client. And many of our partners that you use to help you implement technology are here at Microsoft this week, sharing customer stories (with permission, of course), which allows us to learn from them on how you’re doing things - what works and what doesn’t.

    As time goes on I think you’ll see more patterns emerge from the engagements we’ve done. Right now those are sometimes a competitive advantage, so you’ll see us generalize the patterns into content we can release. For now, check out those case studies, and do make use of the Internal Microsoft IT sites. They really are quite detailed, and have a lot of information you can use.

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