This weekend Let’s Talk Computers will air an Interview that I did with Alan Ashendorf (the host of the show) The interview went very well and I thought you would enjoy a view of the transcript. The show will be available live for your listening enjoyment on Friday June 17th at http://www.lets-talk-computers.com/ .
Complete Transcript of
On Let’s Talk Computers
Alan: We see this all the time in the news and in the latest technology magazines that such and such company is now “Moving to the Clouds”. Well, what does this really mean by “Moving to the Clouds”?
To answer that question, it’s our pleasure to have as our guest again, Chris Henley, Senior IT Pro Evangelist with Microsoft. Welcome back to Let’s Talk Computers, Chris.
Chris: Thanks, Alan. It’s always a pleasure.
Alan: Chris, moving to the clouds, is this just another catch phrase that is being put out like user friendly? What does it really mean by moving to the clouds?
Chris: You know, that’s really probably the perfect question for us to start with. A number of years ago, going back to the 2005 range, Ray Ozzie, who at the time was preparing to move into Bill Gates’s position as our Chief Software Architect, sent a memo out to the developer staff at Microsoft and said that, among other things, that the future vision of Microsoft as a company, was to move from the traditional software company that we had been in the past and focus more on service opportunities that we could find online.
That kind of started the move to what has now become a whole host of services that are offered through an online environment. It also kind of really drove something you and I have talked about before, the virtualization environment. When you put an online together with virtualization components, you get what is, effectively a Cloud.
When we talk about moving operations to the Cloud or companies moving to the Cloud, it’s a lot more than just a buzzword. We really think it’s going to be a major change to the way that we think about technology and technology offerings, going forward.
Alan: Well, I can see moving the Clouds, as far as backups, because with the floods in Tennessee and all the other kind of disasters that we see all over the country, companies are learning the hard way that their companies may become under water or flooded or been involved in an earthquake and all their information is gone.
So they really need to move their critical data offsite. And moving those to the Clouds makes perfect sense to me. But, it’s a lot more than just moving data to the Clouds, isn’t it?
Chris: Yes, it really is. When we think about a business, you touched on what kind of is one of the most common reasons that we think about cloud or hosted storage. We want to do it for backup. And backup is certainly a legitimate reason to use an offline data storage facility.
But, we want to actually go further than that. There are some really good examples of what you can do in cloud style environments today - just hop online. The company salesforce.com is probably one of our best examples of a cloud-based operation. They don’t have their big server rooms, big data center operations that they host, locally. Instead, they host a service.
They host, in their case, a sales service and customer management service and they host it through an online service application and then they offer that out to their clients and they pay a subscription fee for it.
That idea of using software as a service, where if I come along with my small company and I decide, “Hey, I want to use an online sales tools, I might go to someone like salesforce.com and instead of buying a physical piece of software that would then require somebody to install it; configure; manage; run updates and administration, I don’t get all of that.
Instead, I leave that in the hands of the company whose actually hosting the service. They kind of pioneered that idea of software as a service and now you see all kinds of organizations coming online, Microsoft included, with their software being offered as a service. So, a neat idea and neat concept, but much more than just doing backup in data-center operation.
Alan: So, if you’re doing software as a service, from a business standpoint, the business doesn’t have to worry about versions, doesn’t have to worry about updates, do I have the latest patch and everything else? Everything is basically provided and all they have to do is log in and use it, right?
Chris: That’s absolutely the case. People ask me all the time, “When is Microsoft going to offer Office as a software as a service offering?” and I smile and say, “They already do.”
If you were to go out and use either your Live or your Hotmail account for e-mail, you will notice that at the top there is actually a little tab there that says “office” and we offer Word, Excel, PowerPoint and OneNote as full-functioning applications through a cloud-based offering. So, you can actually go out and use that today. And that’s at no cost!
Alan: So, when you’re saying maintain, you know, most companies don’t even understand what going to the clouds is. How are they going to maintain what is going to the Clouds when they don’t understand the whole topic?
Chris: Let me give you some basic concepts around this and I think you’ll smile and say, “That’s what Cloud is, I’ve got it!”
When I talk Cloud, usually what I’ll do is introduce the concepts associated with a Cloud operation by introducing concepts that most are already familiar with and those are the concepts around virtualization.
We started using virtualization Hyper-V, virtual servers. Those concepts are several years old now and I think most of IT World is familiar with the idea of server consolidation, where in the old days we might have bought five big, physical server racks and then added our software on top of those server racks in terms of Windows Server 2003, then Server 2008 and we added Office and we added Exchange and we added SQL. And we added all those things to those five big server racks.
And at some point we decided, “Gosh, you know, we’re running out of space, whether that was hard drive space or memory or processors. We’re running out of hardware capacity. I need to add hardware capacity. And the way we used to do that was, “Oh, well, let’s just go and buy ourselves another hardware rack and we’ll have it installed.”
And the IT professional played the role of building that into my physical facility, maintain it and make sure the drives all still work. Well, when virtualization came along, we realized, “Gosh, that going out and buying another physical server isn’t necessarily probably the best way to do it.”
Instead, we could probably consolidate all of the Windows Servers and Exchange Servers and SQL Servers and starts building less hardware sets and simply add more software applications to that hardware set.
And we started to see virtualization really take off, because the cost of adding additional hardware each time we add additional software started to go down and we could get utilization go up. And over the years, I’d say 2005 until 2010, and even today, we see companies adding more and more virtual servers and less and less physical hardware.
The logical next step would seem to be that if I am not really concerned with having a one-to-one relationship between the server operating system and the hardware that it’s running on top of, and then maybe I could actually move that operating system component to a more hosted environment where I’m not even paying for the physical hardware - instead I just lease what I use. And that hosted environment kind of leads us into the transition from where we might call it virtualization to where we might start defining it as a Cloud. Someone else manages the actual hardware; we simply move our server into that environment.
In fact, Amazon was the one who kind of introduced that version of Cloud, only they didn’t call it virtualization. They called that idea of having Amazon host the hardware and you add your virtual machine to their hardware, they called it “infrastructure as a service.”
And it’s one of the key Cloud offerings. It’s a nice, simple transition from virtualization to Cloud. We simply think about the hardware and the hardware location, instead of being inside our local network. Instead, now we’re starting to talk about running our stuff out in somebody else’s’ data center.
And that’s exactly why you see the proliferation of all these Cloud offerings, because individuals have realized, “Hey, wow! I get virtual server sprawl, very much like I had physical server sprawl.” When we move into Cloud-based environments, we start to get other solutions to help those problems along.
One of the terms that you have probably heard about or aware of is that Microsoft uses a platform for a Cloud-based operations called Windows Azure. Every body ask me, “What is Windows Azure and why should I want to use it?”
I like this answer. One of the members of the virtualization team and I were talking and he said, “You do know that Windows Azure is really just a Windows Server 2008 Virtual Machine?” And I said, “Yes, I guess that really that’s it.”
It’s tuned so that it works really well in our data center, but when you start talking about using Windows Azure, really Windows Azure is just a Windows Server 2008 virtual machine and instead of your IT staff having to build the virtual machine, Microsoft has already got it built for you. You simply say, “Whoa, I want to run my application on that Windows Azure instance. Now, instead of not buying the hardware, you are also not buying the operating system, either.
And we start cutting those costs and there is no longer an operating system maintenance issue there. We don’t do the updates to Windows Azure. Microsoft takes care of all of that and as a company we just focus on what we do. It’s really a nice, nice method of doing business.
Alan: Well, since this service is so powerful and so many companies want to try this out, is there a way that they can try it out as a Trialware and try it out for a while?
Chris: Yes. Often times when we release operating systems we would make Trial Versions and we would send those out. It’s pretty tough to do that with Azure, so instead of doing Trial Versions, what we’ve done is we have this thing called an Azure Pass. If you’ll go to http://www.windowsazurepass.com they will allow you to sign up, using a code. I’ll post it up on my blog.
Alan: What is your blog?
Chris: http://blogs.technet.com/chenley. It gives you 30 days of free functionality on Windows Azure. So you can get some time to get in there, see what it’s like, use the self-service tools, test some of your applications and you can actually use it real world in that environment.
Now, please keep in mind that there are some limitations in its functionality. We don’t want you to set up a full functions Web application, running transactions and expect to get unlimited bandwidth usage and unlimited storage space. So, we do have some limits into how much bandwidth you can use; how much connectivity you can use; how much storage is going to be available, but the limits are well within what you would consider acceptable.
I want you to get out and experience, try this, use it. Windows Azure, Microsoft’s Cloud offering is an excellent opportunity. So get out and use that with this Azure Pass. You can also find that Pass out on my blog.
Alan: Well, Chris, we’ve run out of time. And there is so much more that needs to be talked about on the “Benefits of Moving to the Clouds.” I look forward to continuing this conversation next time.
Chris: Sounds good. Thanks again, Alan. It’s always a pleasure.