Microsoft launched Azure 10 years ago and lots (but not everything) has changed

Microsoft launched Azure in October 2008. In the ensuing decade, Microsoft's cloud platform has come a long way from its 'Red Dog' beginnings.
Written by Mary Jo Foley, Senior Contributing Editor

Ten years ago this week at its Professional Developers Conference (PDC) 2008 in Los Angeles, Microsoft officially launched its Azure cloud platform. Since then, some of the associated product names have morphed and some, but not all, of Microsoft's plans for it have materialized. But Azure undeniably has become a core Microsoft service over time.

Credit: ZDNet

When Microsoft originally outlined what was then known as "Windows Azure," many of us thought of it as an adaptation of Windows Server that Microsoft would run in its own datacenters. (Not a bad first attempt at a description, in my view.)

The Azure operating system, codenamed "Red Dog" -- and named after a seedy club in Silicon Valley -- was designed by a team of Microsoft OS experts including Dave Cutler, the father of VMS and Windows NT. (Fun fact: The Azure team at PDC wore red shoes as a tribute to the Red Dog name.)

I explained the OS piece this way back in 2008:

"Red Dog is what networks and manages the set of Windows Server 2008 machines that comprise the Microsoft-hosted cloud. At the highest level, Red Dog consists of four 'pillars': Storage (like a file system); the 'fabric controller,' which is a management system for modeling/deploying and provisioning; virtualized computation/VM; and a development environment, which allows developers to emulate Red Dog on their desktosp and plug in Visual Studio, Eclipse or other tools to write cloud apps against it. The way Red Dog is architected is Microsoft only has to deploy Red Dog on a single machine and then multiple instances of it can be duplicated on the rest of the servers in the cloud using virtualization technology."

Of these four pillars, the fabric controller was/is the secret sauce, according to Cutler, who spoke with me via an email exchange. Cutler said:

"The one component that we think provides RD (Red Dog) with a significant advantage is the fabric controller. The fabric controller owns all the resources in the entire cloud and runs on a subset of nodes in a durable cluster. It manages the placement, provisioning, updating, patching, capacity, load balancing, and scale out of nodes in the cloud all without any operational intervention."

Over time, Microsoft ended up decoupling "Windows" from the "Azure" name. It still hasn't moved some of its key cloud services, including Office 365, to run on Azure, as planned. (Some newer Office 365 services do run on Azure, but not the core services like Exchange, SharePoint, etc.) And after initially denying plans to allow customers to host Azure in their own datacenters, Microsoft ended up releasing Azure Stack, an Azure appliance platform, which does that very thing.

It's easy to forget, but Microsoft originally launched Azure as a Platform-as-a-Service play only. Later, officials saw the money -- and potentially the low-hanging customer fruit -- was in the Infrastructure-as-a-Service space. That's when Microsoft began offering Linux on Azure. Currently half of Azure VMs are running Linux, not Windows Server.

By most industry accounts, Microsoft is currently the No. 2 cloud vendor, after Amazon. There are hundreds of services currently available on Azure. Microsoft operates 54 Azure regions worldwide. Azure is a key component of Microsoft' "Commercial Cloud" revenue stream (though Microsoft continues not to say how much of that now more-than-$30 billion annual Commercial Cloud run rate is attributable to Azure).

Not too shabby for ten years (plus three or so more of development time up front).

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