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Mark Russinovich: How Microsoft is building its cloud future

Eric Knorr | March 4, 2014
In an exclusive interview, Mark Russinovich opens the hood of Windows Azure and discusses how IT should prepare for its inevitable cloud transition

InfoWorld: So it's a total scale-out replicated infrastructure. That must have been a big computer science problem for you.

Russinovich: It still is. Actually, this is what's so exciting about being at Azure right now. When I joined Microsoft, I'd done a lot of Windows stuff before, but operating systems had already pretty much matured. I mean, Windows today in the internals isn't very different than 20 years ago, and Linux is the same way — just like UNIX back in the '70s.

This cloud operating system, data center operating system, is brand new. So the problems are new, the algorithms are new, the computer science is new. How do you detect failures quickly? How do you respond to them? How do you best do resource allocation?

InfoWorld: That must be exciting. But at Microsoft, while you've been there, hasn't there been a sort of a religious change regarding Azure? At first, it was all about PaaS. Then 18 months ago it was "we're going to do IaaS after all."

Russinovich: Actually, to go back a step further when the project started, it was focused internally at building a platform for our own Microsoft Services. We're going to build new services on this thing so let's do PaaS, because that's the way to create great, scalable, highly available cloud services and we want to push developers inside Microsoft to do things the right way from the start.

Steve Ballmer then says: Hey, you know, this Azure thing— we should actually make it public. The future is public cloud computing; customers can write their own services and deploy them on our infrastructure. Once we made it public we started to realize ... people have a ton of existing code.

This is where we started to run up against the app model that Azure launched with, which was pure .Net, partial trust only, which was no native code. People would say: I've got a native code library I want to use. How can I get that in? When the answer was no, they couldn't, they were like: OK, well, I can't move.

So we started to open up these things. You can do native code. You can have admin access in the virtual machine. One by one we relaxed these things to allow more existing code to come in. Well the main, primary requirement of existing server code is persistent storage, and so that's the big step function — to go from new code written for the specific platform to running existing server code like a server database.

Because in the PaaS stateless model, yeah, you can install SQL in that thing and it's going to create a database and it's going to write data into it. But if that server fails, the virtual machine gets reincarnated on the next server and it's got amnesia — the data is gone. So that's where we said the ultimate on-ramp to the platform is persistent disk, and that's what the world calls infrastructure-as-a-service. Then you're able to bring your own OS image.


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