How Xbox can transform your datacenter

How Xbox can transform your datacenter

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On January 15th, Microsoft announced several new products and services that continue to drive momentum against our Cloud OS vision.

In an accompanying blog post, Microsoft vice president Michael Park says that Microsoft is uniquely positioned to bring you into the cloud era because our products and services are deeply informed by our first-hand experience running some of the largest Internet-scale services in the world. This includes cloud services like Xbox Live, Bing, Outlook.com (formerly Hotmail.com), and Office 365 – services that support over a billion customers and 20 million businesses around the world.  None of our cloud competitors can make that claim.


You may be wondering – if I’m evaluating infrastructure solutions, why should Microsoft’s experience with a gaming platform matter to me? In a series of blog posts, I will examine why our cloud services allow us to serve your infrastructure needs better than any other vendor can.

Today, I’ll focus on our ability to bring the learnings from our cloud services directly to your datacenters.

Simply put, everything we learn from running enormous datacenters and online services at global scale goes into the software you buy from us. We have learned how to drive down cost through a combination of software, hardware innovation and extreme automation, as well as how to maintain efficient, high availability services on industry standard hardware.  And we’ve built those learnings into Windows Server 2012, System Center 2012 SP1 and Windows Azure.


Using Cloud Services to battle test and improve our products
If a 14 year old boy were making datacenter investment decisions, he would probably be swayed by the fact that the same technology that allows him to play “Halo 4” with his friends could be used for his own private cloud. Of course, the fate of enterprise IT is not in the hands of teenagers (at least not yet). But there are lessons for enterprises here – more than a million people played Halo 4 on Xbox Live within 24 hours of its release. We are not talking about simple HTTP requests here – the latency of a split second can make all the difference in a player’s gaming experience, to say nothing of ensuring a reliable connection at all times for all users. Achieving this type of reliability at such scale was a journey that required a lot of learning for the Xbox Live and Windows Azure teams. Enterprise products like Windows Server and System Center have greatly benefited from these experiences.

It’s not just all fun and games. The Bing team began deploying Windows Server 2012 even before it was released because it wanted to take advantage of cloud capabilities such as multicore JIT (Just-In-Time) compiling and the massive improvements in Hyper-V.  Windows Server 2012 has been powering all of the Bing searches since availability of the Release Candidate (RC) in June 2012, handling over 5.5 billion search queries each month. In turn, subsequent feedback from the Bing team has helped make Windows Server a better cloud optimized operating system, and will continue to do so.

In addition to the learnings we’ve had over the years from the likes of Xbox Live and Bing, we’ve also brought new features to Windows Server 2012 and System Center 2012 SP1 that are a result of the experience of running Windows Azure. A few examples:

  • Storage Enhancements - We routinely provision commodity hardware in our datacenters, thereby making hardware failure a non-event. We wanted to provide our customers with the same ability to easily and flexibly provision inexpensive storage. Windows Server 2012 enables you to use file servers for even critical workloads like Hyper-V server and SQL Server with similar reliability and performance characteristics as more expensive storage (e.g. SAN).
  • Bringing Windows Azure services to Windows Server: The high-scale web site and virtual machine hosting capabilities that we built for Windows Azure are being made available to hosting service providers to run on their own Windows Server 2012 and System Center infrastructure. As a result, customers get a consistent experience, regardless of whether they use Windows Azure, or a hosting service provider for their public cloud/hybrid needs.
  • Service templates – Similar to how an application owner (or developer) can specify application instance counts and scale thresholds in Windows Azure, service templates in System Center enable application owners to specify similar parameters that enable scaling the application once relevant thresholds are reached.

This cross-pollination from our public cloud experience is one of the main reasons why Windows Server 2012 has so many new features (over 200). It is also why Windows Server 2012 and System Center 2012 have been so well received since their release – in a recent article The Register stated that “Microsoft's 2012 stack of products is mature, stable and capable of meeting all your cloudy needs.”  As Microsoft continues to deliver on its Cloud OS vision, more and more features from our online services will make it into our infrastructure products, and vice versa.

What about the competition?
Unlike many of our competitors, we build on-premise, public and hybrid cloud solutions. Our breadth of experience across all three makes us unique, whereas other vendors tend to specialize in one or another area. For example, over the years, VMware has delivered value to customers through its server virtualization products. However, as virtualization gets commoditized, will VMware be able to offer the same value going forward? That’s an open question. Personally, I’m not sure how a company that doesn’t have the experience of running large public services will be able to meet the needs of customers that are looking to take advantage of public or hybrid cloud services.

You need not take my word for this – if you haven’t done so already, I highly encourage you to take Windows Server 2012, System Center 2012 SP1 and Windows Azure out for a spin.  Or you could ask a teenager.  In all seriousness, I am very confident that you will find the functionality, choice, and flexibility offered by our platform to be second to none.

Thank you for taking the time to read this blog. In a post next week, I will continue to examine how Microsoft’s cloud experience enables us to meet customer needs in a way that our competitors simply cannot.

Varun Chhabra
Sr. Product Marketing Manager, Server and Tools Marketing

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  • Thanks for sharing this post! Very informative.

  • Brilliant article, the batch file resolved this annoying issue, thank you a lot!