Microsoft Azure evangelist tackles cloud doubts

Summary:Microsoft developer and platform evangelist Mark Taylor talks risk, resilience, private clouds and interoperability

As Microsoft spells out the first service terms and pricing for its Azure development and hosting platform, ZDNet UK spoke to Mark Taylor, the company's director of developer and platform evangelism.

We quizzed Taylor about issues ranging from risk and resilience to private clouds and interoperability.

Q: When Azure becomes available in November, what will Microsoft be doing to convince people it is worth taking up?
A: Since last November, we have been running our CTP [Community Technology Preview] programme, which provides the ability to use Azure without paying for it. That will remain free until November when we go into commercial mode. Organisations can put applications up there and see how it goes. Many thousands worldwide are trying before they buy.

From November, the beauty of the pay-as-you-go model is that organisations can put up applications without having to make a substantial upfront commitment. As they get a better sense of their predicted volumes, they can move to a more formal arrangement.

Once the full Microsoft marketing muscle gets behind Azure to push uptake, what sort of provisions will you have in place to cope with surges in demand, if a service suddenly proves unexpectedly popular?
The architecture we've built out so far has a vast amount of redundancy in it, and we're confident we can deliver against our service levels for the predicted volumes that we have come up with. We've got an aggressive programme to continue to expand in terms of datacentres and the capability within datacentres.

A big chunk of the datacentre we have in Dublin looks like a loading dock from a supermarket. We have the ability to reverse containers in — the power and the taps are there — and they just become part of the datacentre. The ability to scale very rapidly without having to build new facilities has been a real core part of the datacentre strategy. The cost and agility we can take from that approach will serve us very well.

In your Azure service-level agreements (SLAs), you're offering credits against failure to meet certain uptime thresholds — effectively credits to compensate for a customer's potential loss of business. How do think those guarantees match up to the risks that businesses are taking in moving to the cloud?
If you have a failure, it depends where the failure is. We provide the platform, the storage, the connectivity. A failure within an application, for instance, would have a similar consequence if it was running in a traditional infrastructure.

The cloud industry is a new one. As we evolve, as we learn, as we understand — and this is an industry-wide issue — what the right kind of commercial arrangements are, then I'm quite sure our SLAs along with all the others will evolve to accommodate that.

This is a new industry and a new approach to IT, and we are all learning. I'd be amazed if we don't see an evolution in terms of resilience and geographic location of data.

In the same way, I imagine we'll continue to evolve the contractual offerings, service levels and pricing models that we're coming out with initially. Competition will always drive that, as will pragmatic experience.

What can you do to reassure people, especially when the link between the customer and Azure may not be in your hands?
That's a very good point. The network between the cloud and the end user becomes a point of failure like everything else. What will happen — we're seeing it now with organisations such as Akamai and Limelight with streaming — with the increased dependency on public networks, we'll see the network operators...

Topics: Cloud


Toby Wolpe is a senior reporter at ZDNet in London. He started in technology journalism when the Apple II was state of the art.

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