'Everything as a service': A key piece of Microsoft's push to get IT to the cloud

Microsoft didn't unveil a single new on-premises product at its TechEd 2014 show. But company officials still had a message for the core IT pro/developer audience not yet sold on the cloud.
Written by Mary Jo Foley, Senior Contributing Editor

TechEd is Microsoft's IT pro and developer conference. But at this morning's opening keynote at TechEd North America 2014, Microsoft didn't unveil a single new on-premises product. It was all cloud, all the time.


Company officials aren't simply hoping that IT managers won't notice if its on-premises server wares gradually disappear. Instead, the goal is to lessen the hurdles in making on-premises apps available in the cloud and cloud apps available on-premises.

"Consistency between on-prem and the cloud is a theme," said Cloud & Enterprise Technical Fellow Mark Russinovich.

Microsoft officials have been talking up the company's commitment to deliver new features first in the cloud for the past couple of years. That isn't new. Nor will Microsoft invest in developing anything that is an on-premises-only product, going forward, Russinovich said.

"But we are trying to make it so people can develop, deploy and manage consistently on prem and in the cloud, Russinovich said.

The message here is actually quite similar to the one the Windows client team is espousing as of late with its "universal apps" push. While developers won't ever be able to reuse 100 percent of their code in developing apps that can run on both Windows and Windows Phone, Microsoft's goal is to reduce as much friction as possible. Microsoft's story is very much the same with on-premises and cloud apps, Russinovich said.

"We want users to be able to run modern apps in the cloud and on-premises," he said. "While there still will be some things that are different, we are telling developers to target things in the middle."

To help developers and IT pros bridge the cloud/on-premises gap, Microsoft is turning more on-premises technologies into cloud services. One example: Azure Files.

Azure Files is "file sharing as a service," Russinovich quipped. Azure Files, a public preview of which Microsoft rolled out on May 12, enables a single file share from multiple virtual machines using the SMB protocol, which is commonly used on-prem today. The virtual machines can access the file system using standard Windows file APIs. This will allow users to share persistent data across various roles and instances when VMs are attached to these file systems concurrently.

There were a lot of customer requests for this file-sharing capability, including from the Azure Web Sites team, Russinovich said. They wanted the capability to distribute Web sites between servers via a file share. Microsoft expects the new feature to be popular with third-party developers and IT pros, as well.

Another example of another newly-announced service meant to help bridge the on-prem/cloud gap is Microsoft Antimalware for Azure. In a nutshell, this is "antimalware as a service," Russinovich said.

Microsoft took the engine inside its free, consumer-focused Microsoft Security Essentials offering and made it available in an Azure virtual machine with VM Agent extension support. By having this antimalware capability both on-prem and in the cloud, users can opt to monitor and configure in a consistent way. Users who'd prefer to run a different antimalware solution on Azure -- such as Trend Micro's Deep Security and Secure Cloud or Symantec's Endpoint Protection -- also now have the choice of a third-party antimalware offering on Azure

Microsoft also took the wraps off virtual network (VNET) to VNET connectivity at TechEd today. This is another feature with potential appeal to on-premises app developers, Russinovich said. Microsoft's own SQL Always On team wanted the ability to fail over for two regions. Now they have the option of bridging these with a gateway across regions or in the same region, Russinovich explained.

And then there's disaster recover as a service. At TechEd, Microsoft officials said new capabilities will be coming to Azure Hyper-V Recovery manager, in public preview form next month.

Currently, Hyper-V Recovery Manager is aimed at disaster recovery for System Center private clouds. But in June, customers also will get the ability to replicate virtual machines from their primary site directly to Azure instead of to a second customer site. Microsoft will be renaming Hyper-V Recovery Manager to Azure Site Recovery in June when the preview is available.

Will these latest overtures do anything to win over IT pros and developers who are still not willing to take their first tentative steps toward the cloud? The reaction among the thousands attending TechEd in Houston this week should be a good litmus test.

Related coverage:

Editorial standards