Mark Russinovich: How Microsoft is building its cloud future

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

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InfoWorld: So all roads seem to be leading to the public cloud. You mentioned bringing Office 365 and Dynamics onto the Azure platform. It has struck me for a while now that Microsoft has all the pieces in place to deliver a complete small business solution entirely in the public cloud. When will we start to see that kind of integrated offering coming from Microsoft?

Russinovich: Actually, that's definitely where we want to go -- to sell the integration. One of the most valuable assets that we recognize within Microsoft when it comes to cloud and getting that integration is Windows Azure Active Directory.

The name is not a mistake. It's completely deliberate because Active Directory became the center of on-premises network architecture. And we see Windows Azure Active Directory becoming that for the cloud.

InfoWorld: Right. But nobody is going to use just one cloud, so if you're going to use identity management that goes across all kinds of external cloud applications, you still have to tie it back to Active Directory.

Russinovich: That's right. And actually that's another key aspect related to System Center: the hybrid store. It's not just consistency, but also hybrid. It's connecting the two worlds. So that's also one of the plays of Azure Active Directory. This directory sync protocol that connects with on-premises Active Directory so all the identities and passwords are synced and you can log in using your corporate identity into the cloud -- into, say, Office 365 using your corporate password as if it was your on-premises directory. But you can also federate that with whatever identity provider you want as well.

InfoWorld: So tell us what's coming for Windows Azure.

Russinovich: We're constantly adding new functionality and features. Like I said, the cloud is new. If you look at the mature environment of the on-premises IT world, there's not just one thing that does whatever you want it to, but probably 20 or 30 different vendors that offer products that do what you're talking about. The cloud is not there yet. There are a lot of holes in the basic functionality, in the layered functionality of the services that would be added on top of that. This is why it's going to be just a great economic opportunity for lots of people.

InfoWorld: Isn't latency still a huge issue with the cloud? What is Microsoft doing to mitigate that?

Russinovich: Right now we're creating these regions in the geographic areas that companies want to be in. There are two reasons. One is the latency issue. The other reason to go regional is data sovereignty.

InfoWorld: That's another big issue, in the European market especially. I guess you're still getting blowback?

Russinovich: Yeah. People are still reacting, especially when something new comes out every two weeks.

InfoWorld: One last question, Mark. What do you say to IT professionals who see the cloud as a threat to their livelihood?

Russinovich: I've got a good friend, Mark Minasi, who is an IT speaker and writer. He does these pitches to IT pros at conferences and he asks: How many of you are still setting IRQs on sound cards? How many of you are still walking around with CDs and installing software onto individual computers? If you look at the evolution of IT, people aren't doing today what they were doing ten years ago. Change has just been a fact of life all along.

Now, of course, some changes are bigger than others. But change has been there all along. And if you're not adapting, you shouldn't be in this business. IT professionals, I think, have to step up and play a key role in this migration for their companies. Because if they don't, shadow IT is just going to go around them.

That puts the company at risk when that happens. If IT can't get involved and help, and help with immediate deliverables as well as the overarching goals of the corporation, then the whole corporation is going to be at risk.

InfoWorld: So IT needs to provide a framework.

Russinovich: That's right. Basically, providing a governance framework and actually going out and establishing the business relationships -- making sure that the tooling and the operational systems are in place. So when a business unit does move, they're not having to make it up as they go and get it wrong.

This article, "Mark Russinovich: How Microsoft is building its cloud future," originally appeared at InfoWorld.com. Read more of Eric Knorr's Modernizing IT blog. And for the latest business technology news, follow InfoWorld on Twitter.

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