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

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Knorr: I would assume it's all Hyper-V virtualization internally?

Scott: Yeah. We have our feet in all three buckets, so we have some very traditional nonvirtualized environments, we have the set of apps that have been heavily virtualized, and then the next step in the journey is to get them to the cloud. But there are limits to what you can do in the virtualized world. Here's the way I think about it: I call it the "end of the double-double rule."

The double-double rule is sort of the unwritten rule that we all have used for years when sizing the hardware for a traditional three-tier sort of environment. That is -- you figure out what you're going to need, and then you double it, and then you double it again. You do that because you want to provide for growth. There are peak periods, and you might guess wrong and all that sort of stuff. And the strict evidence that the double-double rule is followed is you can go into any of these traditional environments and you see utilization around 5 to 15 percent max.

We deliberately did it and we keep doing it for those environments because making a mistake is costly if you underprovision. Now when we got to virtualization, we said, "Oh, we have some flexibility here and we have some ability to stretch, so maybe I don't do double-double, but I'm still going to do double and then a little." You look at the average utilization in even the best virtualized environments and you still don't see high utilization numbers, but it's better than it was. Maybe you see 30, 40, but that's kind of where people start to feel less comfortable. I'll call that the "double-and-a-little-something rule."

What we're seeing in the cloud, because it's a lot easier to get extra capacity or expand when you need it almost on the fly, now it's -- I don't need double-double, I don't need double-and-a-little-something, I can just figure it out and I can tune and I can play with things and consume just what I need.

Knorr: And why is that? Concretely, why is it so much easier to scale? I mean you still need to have the infrastructure, right?

Scott: You do, but the cloud gives you a different place, a bigger canvas on which you can put the scene. Our developers can decide how much they need and they don't worry about how many physical machines that is or how many VMs it is or how many whatever. That's already provisioned automatically for them in the background. If they guessed wrong, they can get a little more. If they guessed too high, they can get some and take it away and only pay for what they need.

Knorr: All this is assuming a large pool of shared infrastructure available on which to deploy that.

Scott: Yeah, but that's the beauty of the cloud, right?

Knorr: You know, a lot of people when they talk about the private cloud really mean virtualization.

Scott: But it's beyond virtualization. And I'm not saying "private cloud" here. If you're talking about private cloud limits, yes, there will be some more limits. I'm talking about Windows Azure and SQL Azure now specifically, where those limits are far bigger than what you would see in a private cloud scenario.

I'll just give you an example of how it manifests itself here. October is a big month for charitable giving at Microsoft, and we developed years ago this application that's kind of an eBay for charitable giving purposes. You could donate something and then Microsoft employees could come in and bid on it, and at the end of the auction period, the highest bidder wins and all the proceeds get donated to a charitable cause -- a very popular thing, as I got here three years ago, and all built by volunteers and all that sort of stuff.

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