Q&A: Microsoft's Bob Muglia details cloud strategy

In an interview, the president of Microsoft's Server and Tools Division explains what firms should do now to prep for a move to the cloud

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Our view is that [BI] is something that needs to be democratized and made available to everyone, every person who is working with information. Other folks are building these complicated, high-priced tools where there's a lot of training required. Our tool for business intelligence is called Excel. It's a tool that people really know. We took a massive step forward this spring with Excel 2010 and the PowerPivot capabilities that we put in there for people to analyze and work with business data. So now Excel can work with, essentially, information of any size, data sheets of any size, hundreds of millions of rows, with some very, very strong visualization technologies. People can view the data and pivot it in different ways. The path of innovation on that stuff is unbelievably exciting.

One of the things that excites me in general about this time is I that feel like the speed of innovation and our ability to bring technology to market is really increasing. I very much see that in the BI space. We have a SQL conference coming up at the end of this year, and there's a whole new round of interesting stuff that we'll be talking about.

IDG: Do you have any interest in NoSQL, the "big data" solutions?

Muglia: Absolutely. Let's make sure it's all clear. NoSQL has really become SQL and other ways of working with data. The only provocative thing about NoSQL is the name, right? People have been working with non-relational data sets since the beginning of time -- columnar databases, flat files. SQL relational databases are not the way to analyze Web logs. Nobody analyzes Web logs with a relational database. They may sometimes take information out and put it in a data warehouse, but it's an example of a data set that's not naturally suited to the relational model.

There's a new capability in SQL Server that we deliver called StreamInsight that's designed to do real-time analysis of business information that's not relational. And, for example, our Bing team is using that now to do ad serving based on what a user is actively doing. If you don't have any profile information about a user, you can, based on seeing what sites they're going to, use that information in real time to do better ad serving. That's an example of a NoSQL scenario. It came out of our research and it's used broadly in our Web services. There's a technology called Dryad that essentially does a sophisticated MapReduce on associated Web logs or, again, non-relational data. We're incorporating that into our high-performance computing products, making that available broadly to everyone. This is new in the sense that it enables you to work with this massive amount of data. The idea that you had relational and non-relational data is not new.

IDG: Going back to cloud, how do you see this shaking out with your ecosystem of all the companies that build around Microsoft? Do you see in the future that they'd even be able to build into the core applications, the Exchanges, the SharePoints, the Office products?

Muglia: The cloud very much will take existing applications forward. But the really exciting thing is the new applications that can be created and the way these things can be brought together or mashed up, to use that term. As we move services like Exchange to the cloud, the ability for people to build applications around that increases, because you'll have standard protocols that are available for people to work with and pull information in and out of those things. The impediment of having to build up the infrastructure associated with deploying these business applications is just gone.

If a customer is using our online services, our Exchange-hosted services, and an application wants to work with contact management information, as an example, for an application that's a logical extension of Exchange, they'll be able to deploy that in a cloud service like Windows Azure and interoperate and work with the data with Exchange, and then simply sell that service to the customer without having to go through the process of talking about the infrastructure.... I mean, very literally, a customer that's operating with, say, Exchange-hosted services could very rapidly trial one of these applications and begin to get it up and running with virtually no cost to them. The issue of selling that and actually going through the deployment, all of those things go away.

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