Thursday, August 07, 2014

Whistler, Microsoft and how far cloud has come

In six years Microsoft has come from almost zero corporate knowledge about how cloud computing works to it being an integral part of their strategy.  Sure back in early 2008 there were some pieces of Microsoft that knew about cloud but that really wasn't a corporate view it was what a very few people inside the company knew.

How do I know this? Well back in 2008 I was sitting on the top of a mountain with Simon Plant in Whistler.  The snow wasn't great that season but there are few places that I'd rather take a conference call.  The conference call was with Microsoft's licensing folks discussing how we can license their technology, SQL Server, Sharepoint etc on AWS.  It was a rather interesting conversation to say the least.

We were asking how they'd license for virtual machines, and how things like license portability worked in virtual environments.  A typical exchange would go something like

Simon: "So what we need is a virtual core price"
MSFT: "That will be the same as the physical core price"
Simon: "But its ok that it might move physical machines?"
MSFT: "As long as its less than once every 90 days yes"
Simon: "It could be more than that"
Me: "It could be every hour"
MSFT: "No problems, you'll just need to license every core it goes on"
Me: "We don't know what physical cores it runs on"
MSFT: "Why not?"
Simon: "Because its a cloud platform, we don't care about the physical boxes"

Then the conversation included one of the finest lines to ever come out of a software companies mouth

"Well to be safe you just need to ask Amazon how many cores they have in the Data Centre and license for that"

The reason I re-tell this story is to make the point at just how far we've come in 6 years.  I don't think any licensing person would suggest today that you'd need to license for every physical core in an entire data centre.  There really wasn't an understanding that we couldn't just ask Amazon for its core count in every data centre or that we didn't even know physically lived, the bit they really couldn't get was the idea that we didn't care and not knowing those things was actually a positive.

The call continued and by the end we were actually getting somewhere with a general acceptance that physical to virtual licensing needed some wording changes to get it working on AWS.  The Microsoft guys were pretty receptive and keen to learn but it was clearly a new set of concepts for them.

Then Mr Plant blew their mind

Simon: "What about scale down?"
MSFT: "What do you mean?"
Simon: "Well the point of cloud is to scale up and down, so what do we do when we scale down?"
MSFT: "You just need to license at peak usage"
Me: "But that destroys the whole idea of dynamic scaling"
MSFT: "Why?"
Simon: "Well if you scale once a year for a peak for a couple days, say for financial reporting, the rest of the year that just remains idle which is wasted money"

The concept of temporary licenses and dynamic scaling was clearly one that went way beyond what they were able to do at that stage.  There were more conversations then explaining about what cloud really meant and the sorts of things customers would be asking them for in years to come.  This whole call took place with Simon at 12,000ft and him about 12 feet further up the mountain so we wouldn't get interference.  The Microsoft team commented that we appeared very co-ordinated given we were dialing in from UK and US numbers and we just didn't think saying 'actually we are sitting with snowboards on our feet' was terribly professional.

The above conversation was repeated with pretty much every single software vendor over about 3 months with the same misunderstanding and same suggestions of 'license the whole data centre', I'm just singling out the Microsoft example as they are probably now one of the biggest proponents of cloud and it sits at the core of their strategy... oh and doing a conference call on a snowboard was cool.

Six years is what its taken to go from there to here, a world where cloud is now practically the default approach, whether public, private or hybrid and those questioning cloud are effectively the uneducated minority, just as Microsoft were back in 2008.  Now the challenge for enterprises is understanding just how they take on these challenges at enterprise scale, and that is what Simon has been doing since then, leading to him setting up his own business Dual Spark which specialises in exactly that.

Simon Plant: doing cloud computing for longer than Microsoft.