One of the first things Microsoft Corporate Vice President Scott Guthrie did when he moved to the Azure team was to hold an offsite. He asked his team members to try building an Azure app using Microsoft's existing tools, software development kits and guidance. The majority (about three quarters of the attendees, according to one version of this anecdote I heard) took way too long to do so.
To put it mildly, this wasn't a good thing for Microsoft's platform-as-a-service (PaaS) offering, its Windows in the cloud for which the company was encouraging developers to develop apps. That's why over the past six months, there have been a stream of improvements around Azure's programming tools, in terms of their features, their licensing, their discoverability and supporting documentation and information. (Earlier this month, Guthrie and other Microsoft execs held a day-long Webcast all about Azure.)
What else has Guthrie done since he moved from being the Corporate Vice President of the .Net platform in the Developer Division, to head the Azure Application Platform team in the Business Platform Division? I wasn't allowed to talk to Guthrie for this post (not too surprising, since Microsoft officials have pulled back on talking about Azure and its future this year). But others had plenty to share on some of the effects they believe Guthrie has had on Microsoft's cloud platform since his job switch was announced internally in May 2011.
At the time of the May Server and Tools reorg, Guthrie took with him to the Business Platform Division (BPD) his existing Web Platform & Tools team, the Application Server Group and added the Lightweight Role teams from inside the Windows Azure team. (BPD, headed by Corporate Vice President Ted Kummert, oversees SQL Server, SQL Azure, Windows Server and Azure AppFabric, Windows Communication Foundation and Windows Workflow Foundation. It mission is to create an integrated app platform consisting of database and app servers, cloud services, and data programability/modeling technologies.)
"Guthrie has been best known for his evangelism and focus on tools. I think we've seen that energy and attention paid to the Azure team since he took over," said Richard Seroter, a BizTalk Most Valuable Professional (MVP) and principal architect for biotechnology company.
Eric Boyd, a Director for Centare who is responsible for their Chicago business and cloud computing practice, agreed.
"Over the years, Guthrie has made a significant impact in simplifying the developer experience with Microsoft development tools and platforms. He is bringing that legacy to developers using Windows Azure."
Boyd ticked off a list of improvements he has seen come to Azure since Guthrie moved into his new role. He said Microsoft has simplified the startup experience for developers new to Azure. The release of the Windows Azure 1.6 software development kit (SDK) now allows developers to publish apps to Windows Azure without leaving Visual Studio to visit the Windows Azure Management Portal. Additionally, the various Windows Azure SDKs got bundled together into one download and install, so now more need to download the Windows Azure SDK and the Windows Azure AppFabric SDK separately.
Then there's the open-source angle. Azure already offered devs a choice of .Net, Java, PHP, Ruby and Python (with lesser degrees of functionality for the non-Microsoft-centric options). But recently, Microsoft also added support for other open-source frameworks and tools like node.js, Apache Hadoop and MongoDB, Boyd noted.
"Guthrie championed compatibility with non-Microsoft technologies in his previous role, such as with jQuery support in Visual Studio, and it is likely he is pushing such compatibility now for Azure," said Rob Sanfilippo, an analyst with Directions on Microsoft, a Kirkland, Wash.-based research outfit.
The other arena where some company watchers believe Guthrie to have a strong influence is around pricing. Microsoft has tweaked the pricing of Azure and its components several times this year. There's been some simplification on pricing around Azure AppFabric, as well.
Earlier this year, the charges for inbound bandwidth were eliminated and the cost of Windows Azure storage decreased, Boyd said. It was just announced that the maximum size of SQL Azure databases have tripled without any additional charges. And bandwidth charges in North America and Europe have been reduced by 25%, he noted.
Microsoft isn't the only company that wants to attract the .Net developer masses to its cloud platform, however. Two VMware partners just last week announced their strategies and offerings for bringing support for .Net to VMware's Cloud Foundry cloud development platform. And Amazon has been making more moves around improving the developer capabilities of its infrastructure-as-a-service cloud platform, giving it more PaaS-like capabilities.
"I'm interested in seeing Guthrie's response to the encroachment of others on his Visual-Studio-to-Azure domination," said Seroter. "Visual Studio has always been the gateway drug to Azure; if developers were invested in VS, the on ramp to Azure was shorter. But in the past six months we've seen Amazon embed rich tooling in VS that lets developers interact with a host of Amazon cloud services. Now, developers can also use Visual Studio to deploy full .NET apps to Cloud Foundry via Iron Foundry. How will Guthrie and team keep making Azure the de facto destination for .Net cloud apps?"
Sogeti USA National Cloud Solution Specialist and Azure MVP Brent Stineman had some questions of his own:
"We’ve seen few 'new' Azure features introduced in the last 12 months and much more focus on polishing and rounding out the products. As I understand it, this work is largely out of Guthrie’s responsibility. However, Guthrie’s influence can possibly be seen in the simplification of pricing and making the consumption of the various API’s even easier.
"The real question here is what will we see the next 6 or 12 months. As the existing gaps get plugged, will the covers be taken off of new features? What do they have in the pipeline that they aren’t talking about?"
Indeed. It also will be interesting to see if Guthrie and his team take the next step that some of Microsoft's customers are requesting and make Azure more like Amazon's EC2 platform by adding more infrastructure-as-a-service elements to it. There has been talk that Microsoft could make it simpler for customers to run Linux on Azure's compute fabric.
"I think the pace of additions, updates, and pricing tuning to Azure has been swift and with Guthrie at the helm, this should continue, helping keep Azure competitive with offerings from Amazon and Google, Sanfilippo said.
Current and potential Azure customers/developers: Do you agree? What else do you hope ScottGu and his merry band of app platform folks do in the coming six months to enhance and/or fix Azure?