Red Dog: Ray Ozzie casts a long shadow

Red Dog: Ray Ozzie casts a long shadow

Summary: Why was Microsoft Chief Software Architect Ray Ozzie so focused on the Live Mesh sync product, but seemingly less so on the building blocks that were key to powering Microsoft's cloud platform? That's one of the many questions I had when I started researching this week's Red Dog series of posts....

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It has been four months since Microsoft took the official wraps off its cloud-computing initiative.  Yet still relatively little still is known about the Azure platform and plans.

The part of Azure which intrigued me the most was the cloud operating system, code-named “Red Dog,” that is at its heart. Late last month, Microsoft allowed me access to many of the principals behind Red Dog — everyone from the infamous father of VMS and NT, David Cutler, to the handful of top-dog engineers who helped design and develop the various Red Dog core components. Over the course of this week, I’m going to be publishing a post a day about Red Dog.

Ozzie: An Outsider Comes In

When I started gathering information for this week's series on Microsoft's Red Dog cloud operating-system, I went in with some definite biases.

I was skeptical that engineers whose pedigrees were in Windows, not services, were the optimal group to develop Microsoft's cloud infrastructure. I was curious how Microsoft developers could suddenly turn on a dime and deliver rapid iterations of software plus services, after being accustomed to taking years (and years) to hone big-bang software releases. And I was definitely wondering about Microsoft Chief Software Architect Ray Ozzie's involvement in the project. Why was Ozzie so focused on the Live Mesh sync product, but seemingly less so on the building blocks that were key to powering Microsoft's cloud platform?

Check out the full Red Dog Series: Red Dog: Can you teach old Windows hounds new tricks? How the Red Dog dream team built a cloud OS from scratch Microsoft's Cloud OS Dream Team: Who's Who Red Dog: Five questions with Microsoft mystery man Dave Cutler Azure: One big, happy platform?

As I discovered during the course of my Red Dog meetings, Ozzie was anything but uninvolved in Red Dog and Azure. In fact, I heard from team members time and time again, without Ozzie's oversight and direct intervention, Red Dog and the broader Azure platform wouldn't have come together as quickly or comprehensively as they did.

Not everyone inside Microsoft is an Ozzie fan. Microsoft's previous Chief Software Architect, Bill Gates, left some big shoes to fill. And many long-time Softies had gotten used to Gates' way of doing things. They had internalized his priorities (protect Windows at all costs) and his methods (pit internal teams against one another, instead of getting them to cooperate).

One of Ozzie's biggest assets is the fact he's not a Microsoft veteran. His outsider status turned into a real benefit for the teams building Azure, according to my interviewees.

Abhay Parasnis, General Manager of Live Mesh, is an Ozzie fan (which you'd expect, given his position as a manager on one of Ozzie's pet projects). But Parasnis originally was recruited to Microsoft to work on a Gates project (Windows OE, the Windows workflow project). He's had the opportunity to see what it's like working with both of Microsoft's CSAs.

"Ray (Ozzie) realized he needed to reach into the Windows Core, Office and other 'startup' teams at Microsoft," Parasnis said. To pull off Azure, "he needed people who were used to working on mass-scale startups."

One of Ozzie's first tasks was sorting out what Parasnis called "technical tensions" between Windows and the Web. Ozzie got his founder's team thinking about "How we could build a set of capabilities that continued to make Windows a compelling platform," Parasnis said.

But Ozzie had other, equally thorny challenges, on his hands.

"Projects like this need a fairly large pool of people who have Type A personalities. How do you make them have a shared vision? Ray focuses on interpersonal dynamics as much as technology," Parasnis said.

[Can Microsoft really change?] -->

Can Microsoft really change?

Ozzie, unlike many Microsoft insiders, was more intent on exposing the consumer benefits of a new Microsoft platform or technology than the enterprise ones. He picked Live Mesh as the vehicle for showing off what a cloud platform could bring to the everyday user, instead of talking about "late binding vs. loose binding" and other cloud issues that would mean little to the average person, Parasnis said.

"Ray is more of a visionary. We (the Red Dog team) are more systems people," said Azure Chief Amitabh Srivastava. "There were lots of questions about which design point we should pick." But in the end it was clear that "we were doing a layer for Ray's vision."

Ozzie's collaborative focus was definitely key to the quick turnaround the Red Dog and Azure teams were able to achieve, added Doug Hauger, General Manager of Business Strategy for Azure.

"Ray gives good direction about where we should be going. He also facilitates an intellectual conversation that is very collaborative," Hauger said.

The Red Dog series made me realize that I am not much of a believer in the ability of people or companies to change. Microsoft: Once ruthless, always ruthless.

But one of my interviewees got me thinking. I asked how can Microsoft suddenly be all about collaboration and cooperation (and motherhood and apple pie), after 30 years' of practice in cultivating the cut-throat monopolist mentality. It's simple, he said. When there's a new sheriff in town who says, 'It's not just about Windows any more,' you have two choices: Quit or get with the new program.

I'm not ready to say Microsoft has gone soft. But it does sound like Ozzie, three years into his Microsoft tenure, is starting to have a discernible effect on the people, strategies and products at Microsoft. Do you agree?

Topics: Software, CXO, Microsoft, Operating Systems, Windows

About

Mary Jo has covered the tech industry for 30 years for a variety of publications and Web sites, and is a frequent guest on radio, TV and podcasts, speaking about all things Microsoft-related. She is the author of Microsoft 2.0: How Microsoft plans to stay relevant in the post-Gates era (John Wiley & Sons, 2008).

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11 comments
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  • What does the authour mean by new sheriff?

    What does the authour mean by new sheriff?
    mathcreative
    • Ray Ozzie

      We're just starting to see what MS is going to do under his lead as CSA. We'll see how it goes. I hope he does well, and think he will.
      LiquidLearner
  • Microsoft was the father of MicroDog

    NT
    pupkin_z
  • Fascinating Series

    Mary Jo,

    This looks like it is going to be a fascinating series. In
    many ways, Red Dog will make or break Microsoft's
    involvement in the Software + Services game.

    But I disagree that Microsoft has gone soft, or left behind
    their ruthlessness. Instead, I would argue that the game
    has been fundamentally changed. Microsoft literally spent
    years building itself a fortress (Internet explorer used its
    own protocols, Microsoft Office had proprietary formats,
    MSN only worked with MS software) and what did it get
    them? IE: lost market share, Office: government mandate
    for an "open file format," MSN: third rate status.

    People got tired of Microsoft lock-in, so they developed
    alternatives. Microsoft sat on the laurels and didn't try to
    "innovate," and they were overtaken. Now MS is in a bad
    spot, they are a distant third in many of the important
    technological races. If they want to stay relevant, they
    actually need to compete on their technological merits and
    win.

    MS employs a lot of smart people, and they are laser
    focused on one simple goal: outcompete their competition.
    I think that MS intends to bury Google, Apple and anyone
    else who goes for their target demographics. But they
    can't do it by exclusivity, that didn't work. Thus ... the
    emphasis on collaboration. If Ray Ozzie has his way,
    people will use Mesh because it's the best thing out there
    (<a href="http://www.oak-tree.us/blog/index.php/2009/02/18/live-
    mesh">and it is, even in beta</a>).

    And the same thing goes for Red Dog, Windows 7, and all
    of the MS products. Microsoft, I think, wants very much to
    win and their competition is very strong. To win against
    strong competition, first you have to beat them. Once
    their beaten, then you can cut their throats. Just give it
    some time.
    _______________________________

    <a href="www.oak-tree.us/blog">Oak-Tree.us/Blos</a>
    Rob Oakes
    • Agree to some but not all

      First, let?s look at what msft is of.

      1. Server -- Windows Servers, SQL Server, Exchange, market share are growing.
      2. Client -- Vista is performing just OK, and you know why(actually i suspect you know why, I will tell you). Win 7 is on the way. you will see what a difference it makes after release of Win7.
      3. Productivity and collaboration -- Office is unchanllenged in any form. Sharepoint is doing great
      4. device and entertainment -- not great not bad as know about XBOX

      many people focus more on what msft fails to do, lots of things like online and Zune are not what msft based on, if they do it, great, if not, fine.

      however the biggest challenge for msft is the media relationship. not only Vista, not only Zune, not only IE, it is everything. You look at the media nobody say a good word. Even sometimes you see they are trying to be fair, what they are doing is the opposite. Vista is a great operating system, not only from a user's point of view, also from software engineer's point of view. Except for some early driver issues which didn't last long, Vista is massively better than any of former OSes.
      Zune is not perfect; the software is great, hardware need some cosmetic fix, that's all. I do see more and more people using it.

      Linux has done anything better. Apple do staff pretty and useless, that what they do tens of years ago, never changed. do you think firefox is better than netscape? i don't think so. why all of the sudden they become good. because the media said so.

      people including you and me are living a world that is largely controlled by the media. Give you an example, in North Korea, everyone thinks their dear leader is the best golfer in the world. How many people really think and how many people really have the info to think.

      It's sad to see this, but that's the world we live in. If it was a small company, i don't think they can continue to do business. msft is obviously not small one. it takes more than to damage msft.


      jk_10
      • Lightning will strike the 'M$ Cloud'....

        Insecure software built by M$ facing the public Internet, be afraid it is a hack away from spewing private data all over creation.

        NO thanks.
        Christian_<><
      • MS's eggs aren't all in the Azure basket

        Its one piece of their S+S plan. Online Services such as Exchange, CRM, Sharepoint are another element. I've seen clients as small as 50 users to a big as 60,000 making use of things like SharePoint online. So there is proven value in MS's cloud offerings.

        Unfortunately, I think the large enterprise case for moving to Azure is still to be seen. But I'm curious to see what the message will eventually be. :)
        bstineman
  • Why does the mascot look like Clifford the big red doggie?

    ?
    HypnoToad
    • The dog is ....

      the dog of performance of windows cloud....


      :)
      Christian_<><
  • Message has been deleted.

    David Grober
  • RE: Red Dog: Ray Ozzie casts a long shadow

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