Cloud and the Hockey Stick

By Alex Brown

So here’s a question: What do 10th Magnitude, Microsoft and the Chicago Blackhawks have in common? Well, if you think in hockey terms (which I do often—just ask my hockey-tortured family), then over the past five years all three of those organizations succeeded in a rather unusual way: they’ve all been skating to where the puck was going, not where it had been.

Hockey game(Let me just say that I’m not usually a sports-analogy guy, but people who know me will not be surprised that I’m using the Triple-Crown Stanley Cup winning Blackhawks—my favorite team—to illustrate my point. Thankfully, my team has obliged my need for an analogy by winning the Stanley Cup almost every other year since 10th Magnitude started in 2010. Thanks Coach Q.)

This year, 10th Magnitude is five years old. And we’ve been talking about cloud economics and Azure that whole time, but it’s only recently that the rest of the world has started to nod along as we speak.

More about that in a moment, first the Blackhawks: the reason they are so great is that amazing players like Toews and Keith rely on instinct, patterns and habits to skate to where the puck is going to make the move that gets the goal. In hindsight, 10th Magnitude is similar: we skated to where the puck was going—without knowing it. Because our business is completely different from when it started, but somehow we’ve gotten to our original goal.

In 2010 (Blackhawks over Flyers 4-2 for their first Stanley Cup Victory since 1961) when we opened our “doors” (at the time, I’m pretty sure it was either the door to my home office or my local Starbucks) 10th Magnitude’s business model was based on my big data center experience and my subsequent conclusion that they were too expensive to run, too hard to operate and too slow to change and that there needed to be a better way. And that if we found that better way, the mythical unicorn of business/IT alignment would finally occur.

Our original goal was to help corporate IT move their operations into the cloud. But corporate IT wasn’t buying that message—they were staying on prem. So we pivoted, skated in a different direction, and discovered that small business was embracing the cloud model because it let them do things they could have never afforded the technology to support before. So we started building them custom cloud applications that unlocked untold business opportunities.

By 2013, (Blackhawks over Bruins 4-2) Microsoft’s Azure platform had matured, as had people’s understanding of the opportunity with cloud. Mid- and large-size corporate entities started working with us to help incorporate cloud. Funnily enough, they didn’t want new systems built in the cloud as we had been doing for small business, they wanted us to help them learn how to migrate and operate their existing IT in the cloud.

Our Azure migration business blossomed—about 3 years after we planted the seed. But some unexpected things came along with that business. As cloud platforms became more sophisticated, so did the desire to manage them seamlessly. Automation and DevOps practices emerged as must-have elements to getting systems not only into the cloud, but also out of the realm of human error and micro-management and into the realm of agility and customer focus. Those practices and philosophies also impacted how we developed software in the cloud; and software in general started to shift into an API-centric component of modernizing the enterprise.

This year, 2015, (Blackhawks over the upstart Lightning 4-2) we are able to offer clients a technology model that fully embraces the promise of the cloud. Multiple pieces have come into focus:

  • Cloud-driven IOT and analytics
  • Fully scalable infrastructure
  • True DevOps implementation that seamlessly automates, integrates and iteratively delivers applications and infrastructure
  • Applications that are built quickly and provide modern, rapidly adjustable connections between systems and users

We can now take a holistic view towards our customers’ needs and everyone benefits. The mythical unicorn is emerging: IT and business are aligning around the greater good for the business and that emergence is due to the cloud.

What may be most surprising about the past five years is that even giant Microsoft has pivoted. It just so happens that Microsoft’s annual Worldwide Partner Conference (WPC) occurs every summer around the anniversary of 10th Magnitude’s founding, which allows me to reflect each year on the growth 10th Magnitude has had and how our partnership with Microsoft continues to be invigorating.

In past years, WPC has been super exciting because of the cool stuff they announced—new products, services and the like. And while this year they had some pretty interesting product announcements (Cortana analytics, Windows as a Service, Surface Hub and some really great IOT stuff) for me the products weren’t the stars of the show. This year, I had a front row seat to watch Microsoft make clear strides towards becoming an enabler of an X-as-a-service economy with Azure as the lynchpin.

At WPC, all my interactions with Microsoft execs, product and sales teams were punctuated by vigorous head-nodding agreement when I discussed driving Azure consumption rather than selling licenses of software. The entire organization is clearly shifting how they think about supporting customers. The ideal of cloud is not just a vision: Microsoft is talking the talk and walking the walk.

Some might say Microsoft Azure’s curve looks like—wait for it—a hockey stick.

As one of Microsoft’s leading cloud partners and Azure proponents, I felt like 10th Magnitude was truly validated. We had skated in the right direction before the puck went that way. We were honored recently when Microsoft named 10th Magnitude to their elite National Solution Provider partner program. We are the smallest firm ever to be elevated to NSP status—and all we do is Azure.

People are talking about the Coach Quenneville’s Blackhawks as a dynasty. Is it just a coincidence that the same year that dynasty began, so did 10th Magnitude and Microsoft’s Azure platform? Selfishly, I hope not.