Cloud Grows Up

By Alex Brown

Last month, I went to Microsoft’s annual partner conference, and things are vastly different from last year. The transition from Ballmer at Microsoft’s helm to Satya Nadella has generated an infectious energy. But, selfishly, what’s most interesting to me is that new fervor is tilted most decidedly towards what I’m all about: Azure.

After last year’s partner conference, I wrote a post about a seismic shift in how people were thinking about cloud. This is what I wrote then:

Cloud_grows_upHere’s how I know that organizations are truly starting to take advantage of the economics of the cloud by shifting their IT investments away from infrastructure (maintenance) and towards applications like we build at 10th Magnitude—ones that help them grow: In recent years, there has been a huge collection of Microsoft-focused consulting firms who have made a great living helping their customers deploy and maintain infrastructure.  They’d implement Exchange, or design clustered SQL Server, or deploy new storage sub-systems. But last week many of these organizations were openly seeking new—or at least additional—directions for their practices.

At the time, that was revolutionary. A year later, that thinking—feeling around for bits of cloud opportunity—is not just expected, it’s practically passé.

After this year’s conference, it’s clear that Azure has exploded into a platform with its own gravitational force. That gravitational pull is attracting, energy, resources, brain power and innovative thought. The Azure platform vision, espoused by Nadella and Microsoft luminary Scott Guthrie, takes formerly disparate properties like Azure, Office 365 and Dynamics and evolves them in a way that will be used and consumed as pieces of a composite, cloud-based solution.

It’s not surprising that this is happening now: the whole enterprise market is rapidly becoming cloud-centric.  According to a study sponsored by HCL Technologies and reported on CIOInsight.com, the top three business drivers for the respondents’ organization’s cloud strategies were:

  • Business agility and speed (59%)
  • Access to new technologies, such as smartphones and tablets (46%)
  • Improving customer satisfaction (43%)

Finally!  After four years of me trying to convince people, it’s no longer cost, cost, cost but the really cool stuff instead. Customers are seeing that they can deliver significantly greater capabilities.

How did this transition—from a platform for developers to a comprehensive business system—happen in only 12 months? Well, Nadella’s view is that all these pieces are not actually individual components, but are now exposed as capabilities of the cloud platform to be used and integrated. They have evolved from stand-alone products into powerful API-driven capabilities. In Nadella’s Azure, you get not only raw compute from IaaS, but also easy to access, easy to use, easy to integrate powerful building blocks that create the foundation for next generation business applications. It’s not just about replacing the hardware now.

Think about the impact of this shift: The Azure model abstracts away all the non-value-add tasks. Azure makes it so easy to develop using high-value resources (such as office 365, machine learning, mobile services, etc.) that the cost of development will continue to drop dramatically making the ROI for a given dollar of development rise considerably. Development budgets will expand in lock-step with the increasing pace of development because the returns will be spectacular.

After working with Azure for four years, I’m convinced that the promise of what cloud technology is going to deliver for business is here. Now. Most of the barriers have fallen and customers are living in a “when” not “if” cloud world. There are still some hurdles—the HCL Study respondents cite budget, security and integration as challenges—but these are surmountable. Four years ago nobody believed and the platform didn’t live up to the hype. Now the tables have turned.

And what happens next is the best part. We are already uncovering all sorts of amazing opportunities for our clients. In one case, we are using the data collection of the Internet of Things, predictability from machine learning and the identity and notification mechanism of Office 365 to create maintenance predictability system for a construction-industry client where equipment breakdown costs run thousands of dollars. We can now predict breakdown likelihood, inform the field managers and preempt a costly work stoppage.

All innovation, all the time: Go Azure. Can’t wait to see what happens next year.