Microsoft Cloud Strategy with Steve Ballmer

Steve Ballmer made a presentation in Switzerland this week and I had the chance to be selected as an attendee for his conference. Its topic was the Cloud opportunities offered by Microsoft. His talk was followed by a more technical presentation on Azure by a Microsoft consultant.

We don’t have the chance to observe often very big software executives on stage in Switzerland, a country that Steve Ballmer nicely (and surely rightly) qualified of “Tier 2” market. I must say that I was nicely impressed by his speaker’s skills, even if you could also realize he is not a technical guy as the other Steve might be. If I mention chance in my introduction, it is because after registering online for the event, I received another e-mail saying that Microsoft allowed more people than available seats to register and they had to randomly draw the attendees among the registration. There were 700 registrations and only 350 seats available. You have to wonder which software was running the registration process. ;o)

Steve Ballmer in Zurich
Steve Ballmer in Zurich

The Microsoft definition of the Cloud encompass three dimensions: the back-end, the smart NUI (Natural User Interface) devices and finally the people and applications.

On the back-end side, the aim is to re-architect applications on a transparent infrastructure that Microsoft offers under the Azure brand. Development will be freed of operational concerns as the management, scalability and distribution of infrastructure is provided by Microsoft. Steve Ballmer recognized that some companies would be reluctant to have their applications and data outside their own control. Microsoft should gradually release the technology of Azure so that customers will be allowed to build private Azure clouds.

Even if the PC remains currently the mostly sold computing platform, usage of newer devices and technologies will increase and merge. He mentioned the Kinect technology of the XBox as something that could be incorporated to other devices and also hints that new Windows devices, which I understood as iPad-like product, should be available later this year.

As data and applications become more widely open and available, you should also provide a way to find and integrate them. Bing will be one of the applications used for this. In the future we could use some “binglets” to work with search results. Office will be a main point of integration with extended data usage capabilities.

Attendees could submit questions on-line that would be proposed to Steve Ballmer on stage. The first question was about which technology should be favored for the interface when developing a new application: WPF (Windows Presentation Foundation ), Silverlight or HTML5? Steve Ballmer made a classical marketing answer, saying basically that “you can develop in C#, C++ or JavaScript, we will support all technologies”. In this Q&A session, he made also a funny remark when his employee was trying to ask a question without mentioning Apple, saying instead “the company with a fruit as a logo”. Steve Ballmer interrupted him, saying that there are a lot of fruits in the smart device market, as the same analogy could also be applied to Blackberry. Finally, he declared that the strength of Microsoft was being active in both the consumer and the enterprise markets, which is not the case for Oracle, IBM, Google or Apple. Having started from the consumer market to conquer the enterprise, Microsoft should work again to be more powerful in the consumer segment. With the rather limited success of initiatives like Zune or Windows Phone, there is plenty of room for improvement.

Azure Infrastructure Demonstration

Steve Ballmer was followed by Ronnie Saurenmann, a Swiss Microsoft consultant who in one hour made an interesting presentation of the components of the Azure platform with a meaningful scenario and the right mix between PowerPoint moments and live demonstrations. From the creation of the cloud instance and SQL Azure database to the usage of Azure storage for pictures, CDN and AppFabric cache instances to improve performance, all the components of Microsoft Cloud platform were reviewed.

Windows Azure architecture of the demonstration
Windows Azure architecture of the demonstration

The demo also included the usage of a Cloud load testing instance to validate the performance improvements when changes were made on the application. The Cloud costs of this one hour demo involving two databases and two servers were estimated to 3 dollars. This variable pricing reinforces my feeling that a Cloud solution is very interesting when you need to support exceptional web usage, like the momentarily spikes of traffic that yearly events may incur or if you wanted to load test your web site from different locations during a short period. You will then have to pay only for the actual computing power and infrastructure that you use.


* Video of Steve Ballmer presentation
* Video of Azure Demonstration
* Slides of the Azure Demonstration

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