Microsoft CIO: We're dog-fooding the cloud

Tony Scott talks frankly about Redmond's practice of making employees beta testers -- for Microsoft cloud services and conventional software

I first spoke with Tony Scott in 2003 when he was CTO of General Motors. At the time, the obsession of the day was Web services, which Scott wryly called "an excuse to get people to talk together" about business processes, a role many grand IT initiatives fill.

Today Scott is CIO of Microsoft, a position he's held since Feb. 2008. When I interviewed him just before the holiday, the main excuse for us to talk was the tech industry's current obsession, cloud computing -- and how Microsoft is leveraging its own vast cloud computing infrastructure to serve its employees. We also touched on the consumerization of IT and how he is supporting a glut of new mobile devices.

[ InfoWorld editor in chief Eric Knorr lays out Microsoft's advances in cloud computing: Microsoft's big grab for the cloud | Office in the Cloud, take two | Get the no-nonsense explanations and advice you need to take real advantage of cloud computing in InfoWorld editors' 21-page Cloud Computing Deep Dive PDF special report. | Stay up on the cloud with InfoWorld's Cloud Computing Report newsletter. ]

Between his GM and Microsoft jobs, Scott served as CIO for the Walt Disney Company; further in the past, he was vice president of information services at Bristol-Myers Squibb. This golden resume puts Scott in a rarified group of IT leaders who are comfortable running huge global IT operations.

But being CIO of Microsoft is not the same as being CIO of any old $200 billion corporation. We began by talking about that difference.

Eric Knorr: What's it like to be CIO of a tech company like Microsoft? I bet it's fun have a bunch of technologists always second-guessing what you're doing.

Tony Scott: Well, but it's no different than at home. [laughs] Everybody is getting used to this world of having technology at their fingertips, and there's a belief that what scales at my house should scale in the corporate world. I find it fun and endlessly challenging in terms of how we're going to solve some of these big problems where people want access to everything all the time, in a very convenient way on whatever device they happen to be on or in or around.

Knorr: Just to be clear about your purview, you have nothing to do with the big new cloud infrastructure data centers? You're concerned with supporting 4,000 Microsoft users.

Scott: Maybe I should give a little context here. One of the roles that Microsoft IT plays, and has played for a long time, is to dog-food all of the products that are destined for the enterprise. In the past, that would have meant that when we did a new release of an operating system or a new Office release or whatever, we would start in the very early phases of the development cycle, deploying in very small quantities -- and then over the course of the development cycle, deploying internally at greater and greater scale.

In the example of Windows 7, by the time it reached its beta phase, we had virtually every employee in Microsoft all around the world on the beta release. Virtually every product that we sell into the enterprise follows that pattern. The world of services, whether it's the business productivity stuff or Azure or whatever, we treat no differently. I have many large projects underway now that are on our cloud infrastructure and will be delivered over the next couple of years.

Knorr: So how do you reconcile dog-fooding beta software with supporting your users? You have to test products for the business, but you also have to keep your users happy and make sure everything works.

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