Q&A: Microsoft Corporate VP Brad Anderson

On the heels of his TechEd 2013 keynote speech, Anderson talks cloud, BYOD, the upgrades to Windows Server, System Center, Intune and Windows Azure Active Directory.

As Microsoft's annual TechEd 2013 conference convened yesterday in New Orleans, the company outlined a wave of new products to come that include upgrades to its flagship premises and datacenter product (Windows Server 2012), as well as its data platform (SQL Server 2014) and cloud computing services (Windows Azure). In particular, the R2 releases of Windows Server 2012 and System Center 2012 are aimed at advancing Microsoft's so-called "cloud OS" strategy and bring parity between the datacenter and the cloud for IT pros.

Brad Anderson, the corporate vice president overseeing Microsoft's Windows Server and System Center products, gave the opening keynote talk. Armed with a number of senior product experts, Anderson demonstrated how the new releases will enable what he described as "people-centric IT." Along those lines, the coming upgrades to Windows Server, System Center and Windows Intune, combined with the forthcoming Windows 8.1 client operating system – formerly code-named "Windows Blue" -- will allow IT organizations to support bring-your-own-device (BYOD) policies more easily.

Those R2 products will be coming soon. Microsoft has indicated that product releases of Windows Server 2012 R2 and System Center 2012 R2 are planned for the end of this year. Using the forthcoming new wares, Anderson explained in an interview with Redmond magazine editor Jeff Schwartz how Microsoft is creating new ways for IT to manage and secure devices and user access in such BYOD scenarios.

Before commencing with the interview, Anderson made the following remarks:
The value from Azure we're bringing and running on top of Windows Server [is] providing a consistent cloud, [with the aim of] experiencing consistent cloud capabilities across clouds. A couple of weeks ago, we announced and released Windows Azure Infrastructure as a Service. We're seeing 1,000 new customers added a day. That particular business is growing at a more than 200 percent year-over-year growth rate for us. On Windows Server and the private cloud, we're seeing significant momentum with Hyper-V where it now is growing at three times the rate of VMware's hypervisor. SQL Server continues to do very well with it being the leader in terms of database instances with more than 46 percent of the world's databases running SQL and it's running at 1.7x what Oracle is.

I think we've got quite a bit of momentum going behind our cloud efforts. Our vision for the cloud centers around what we call the cloud OS, [and] that cloud OS is this umbrella of all the investments we're making that enables organizations to move and embrace the cloud. We talk specifically of those four promises of empowering people-centric IT, enabling modern applications to be built, gaining insights from all your data and then transforming your datacenter. I thought we talked about tangible real proof points of delivering on that vision and on those four promises.

Q: What impact will Windows Server 2012 R2 have on making Windows 8.1 more appealing to enterprise customers?
A: There are a number of things we've been doing inside Windows Server and in System Center to help raise the awareness of what the Microsoft solution can do. I think we did a pretty good job [in the opening keynote at TechEd 2013 in New Orleans] demonstrating things like the seamless experience of registering a Windows 8 device with the Intune service and registering a Windows 8 device with the Azure Active Directory Service. Once it's in there, that device can be fully managed from Azure and from the services that we're delivering specifically in Azure Active Directory and in Windows Intune. Then there's a number of things that we're doing like the side-load applications, the ability to express and enforce policy on Windows devices all through Intune all running as an Azure service. Those are some of the things we're doing to continue to make Windows 8, and now 8.1, a more attractive offering for businesses. I think we did a good job at talking about manageability and protection and the ability for IT to be able to interact with the Windows tablets, which are far and away more manageable than what comes from from Android and from Apple.

Q: We did a survey of our readers, and 90 percent said Active Directory is their primary source of user authentication and that figure is expected to rise over the next two years to about 94 percent. Any prediction what percentage will use Windows Azure Active Directory over the next couple of years?
I don't have a specific number. What I can tell you is all of the services we are building, whether that be Office 365, Windows Azure, Windows Intune, all of those services we are building in the cloud, all have to do with authentication against Azure Active Directory. So every time you hear about an organization embracing those cloud services, they're also embracing Azure Active Directory. The other thing that's important is, not to think about these two things as separate because they very much are a continuum.  Windows Azure Active Directory is really just extending your Active Directory out to the cloud.

Q: One of the questions about Windows Azure Active Directory is will it support Group Policy? That's one of the limitations it does have today.
A: Let's talk about what people use Group Policy for. Group Policy is used for setting up configuration settings like your network, your wireless and those types of pieces. It's also used for setting a lot of tight controls on users' Windows devices and the apps. So think for a minute about Windows Intune. You get this cloud-optimized mobile device management solution. With that cloud-optimized mobile device management solution, you get Group Policy-like capabilities like setting your network and your wireless settings and setting a power-on password, encryption. Think about Azure Active Directory, Windows Intune, as well as Office 365, really driving the move toward these software-as-a-service [aspects] delivered from Azure with capabilities like lightweight policy management coming with Windows Intune.

Q: Do you think over time they'll want that complete Group Policy?
A: More and more on the user devices that are coming in where it literally is the user bringing in their own device, IT doesn't have the ability to set all of the settings on these user-controlled and user-owned devices like they had in the past. I see more and more of the growth coming from users bringing in their own devices. I think you need lightweight Group Policy like solutions. I think that's one of the things we're building into Windows Intune.

Q: That said, do you see Windows Azure Active Directory in the future supporting Group Policy?
I see doing a much more light version of Group Policy but right now we're delivering that through Windows Intune. So think about these things as all inter-related and things we are building on together. So as we think about Azure Active Directory and Intune, we're doing common planning and engineering milestones across those two things.

Q: Some analysts say, when it comes to public cloud computing services, no one will be able to touch the dominance Amazon Web Services has achieved. Do you believe Windows Azure can catch up in terms of market share?
 Absolutely! I think the promise that we're talking about and executing on, where we deliver a consistent set of capabilities across clouds, is what every customer wants. I think Amazon was out of the box first and was able to get some of the early market but as organizations are now looking at their needs and their requirements, they don't want to be locked into Amazon. They want to be in a public cloud, maybe move to a service provider. And they don't deliver that right now. And that is just fundamental in our cloud OS vision -- [that] is, providing friction-free VM movement across clouds.

Q: It seems VMware with its newly announced Hybrid Cloud Service and even the OpenStack model have similar philosophies that you just mentioned in terms of enabling organizations to move their VMs between the datacenter and the public cloud. How would you say Microsoft is tackling that differently?
A: I think Windows Azure is a true public cloud. I don't know what VMware just announced. I'm totally confused by this hybrid cloud they announced and I don't see that as a public cloud. I do believe Microsoft is unique right now as the only organization in the world that has a high-scale public cloud, a private cloud, as well as a cloud that service providers can deploy. And [Microsoft] is delivering and executing on delivering consistency across those three clouds. I think we are very unique in that right now.

Q: How would you compare what you're doing [with Windows Azure] to OpenStack?
A: I think OpenStack will be very similar to the adoption we have seen with Linux. Certainly Linux is used in a number of places but in order to be able to use Linux most organizations have to have a development arm behind their needs. I see OpenStack being used in some of the large organizations and certainly a number of service providers but I still think the value we bring from a Hyper-V with that integrated stack, tested end to end, supported end to end by Microsoft around the globe, it provides a significant value to organizations of all sizes. And to be clear, we are working with the OpenStack community to make sure that Hyper-V is a well-supported and first-class citizen within the OpenStack infrastructure.

Q: Do you see a point where Windows Azure is able to support OpenStack?
A: I don't know if that's the right question ask. OpenStack is a fabric controller. Azure supports applications and VMs, which is a layer up above where OpenStack is.

Q: That said, do you see organizations being able to move data from an OpenStack-based cloud to Windows Azure or vice versa?
A: I think in the future there will be demand for us to be able to migrate VMs and applications running on OpenStack to Hyper-V and to Azure but there's a pretty significant difference between migrating and converting and just being able to move in a seamless manor because it's all consistent. That's one of the most important things to point out. With our promise of consistency … it's the same VMs, the same format, it's the same management, it's the same identity and the same developer interface. When users open applications to run in Azure -- or even if you're running in the IaaS world with a VM -- you don't have to migrate anything. You just move an existing VM or you move an application and it automatically will run on all these different platforms because it's all consistent across public, private and hosted service provider clouds.

Q: At what point do you think Windows Azure will be suitable both technically as well as economically as a replacement for tape to back-up data?
A: I see a lot of organizations doing that to date. I see a lot of organizations wanting to take advantage of Azure backup that we just released and wanting to take advantage of Hyper-V replica coming up to Windows Azure. So once you get those capabilities back into Windows Azure, it has its own capabilities where it stores multiple copies of that data from fault tolerance. For example, I see organizations that are using StorSimple [acquired by Microsoft last year] to put copies of entire VMs and volumes up in Azure and they do use that for their backup as well as disaster recovery solutions.

Q: Are you seeing them doing it for archiving as well, for example five to seven years of data?
A: I certainly do see that happening, The cost and efficiency you can get by coming up to Azure where we're running at scale and continually dropping the price and it actually becomes a very attractive solution for archiving because we'll be able to deliver an archiving solution at a more economical price than an organization will be able to do on their own.

Q: One of the weakest chains in the link for any organization is the network link between the datacenter and the public cloud. How do you see breaking through that limitation?
A: I think the biggest issue is the initial replication of the data up. One of the things we're releasing in the R2 release is the ability to do an offline sync where you can literally take your volumes, put those onto some kind of a medium, send them to Azure. We upload those and then you link and we just get the delta from that point forward. Far and away, the biggest bottleneck and the hit is when you do that initial synchronization of the data up. Once you're up there, we can stay pretty abreast and keep things up to speed, but just that initial sync can be a little bit time consuming.

Q: Security is still a key barrier to organizations that are reluctant to use the cloud. Where do you think you need to go [obviate those fears]?
A: First and foremost, we'll make sure we continue to certify with all of the different standards, whether that be HIPAA, whether that be the different regulatory compliance agencies we need to certify with. And certainly, as a part of almost all of those, you do have a lot of requirements around security and protection. We'll continue to do that. We're making significant investments as we have to literally certify all these different services every year. Second, we'll continue to develop and ship technologies like the StorSimple acquisition in November of last year. With StorSimple, what we're able to do is, it's a block replication capability. What we do is we actually will encrypt all the blocks on premises so they will ship across the wire in transit, being encrypted at rest in Azure. They're encrypted and the keys never come up to Azure so we never have the keys open, even if we wanted to. That's a good example how we're able to give you the keys and you can rest-assured your data is encrypted in transit, at rest and it's secure.

Q: What do you tell customers considering deploying Linux-based servers? For example when someone wants to put a low-cost commodity-type system out there, it's still common for many organizations to put them on a Linux server. Is that an audience you just cede?
A: We don't like to cede anything. What I would tell you, one of the key measures [that] tracks every quarter is the number of x86 servers being sold and consumed around the world and what percentage of those have Windows Server attached as opposed to Linux. We're still seeing 75 percent of all the x86 servers around the world that are being sold have Windows attached to that. As we look at what's happening in enterprise IT, we see the Windows position being far away the preferred option … new deployments of applications going on Windows over Linux.



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