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Apr 20, 2017 Mitchel Sellers

 Microsoft Azure Platform News — Q1 2017

At ICG we remain generally agnostic about public clouds — we have customers running successful apps and sites on Azure, AWS, Google, and even IBM. We have noticed, however, that Microsoft is dedicating a lot of impressive resources to their Azure platform in a bid to captivate a good chunk of the business-class market. We’re impressed. 

A recent article in Computerworld suggests that this effort has been successful. Even though large enterprises have significant cross-over platform loyalties, Microsoft Azure has become a platform-of-choice for two-thirds of enterprise managers (vs. 55% for second-place finisher Amazon AWS). This is NOT to say that Azure is larger or hosting more applications and websites than AWS — even the NSA would have trouble getting accurate, non-biased intelligence about real-world usage out of these corporate giants. What it does say is that real-world IT managers and decision-makers in large organizations are leaning toward Azure for future products and services … at this particular point in time anyway. 

And we can’t say that we blame them. News updates and innovations are coming out of Redmond, WA, hard and fast. So fast that they can be ridiculously hard to keep up with. Now seems like a good time to stop, drop, and roll-out what we think are some of the biggest happenings in the world of Microsoft Azure during the first Quarter of 2017.

January — Serverless Computing

One of the hottest buzzwords these days in internet technology is “serverless.” Now this sounds like gypsy-voodoo-magic to a datacenter engineer since, well … what is a datacenter full of if not physical servers, right? But the term doesn’t actually mean that there are no servers. It refers to the way that developers think about servers, or — more accurately — how they are learning to not think about servers at all.

Many of the brightest minds and largest tech companies in the world see this idea as a way to wring even more value, economy, and elasticity out of cloud architectures. In a future post we will discuss the concept of serverless development in more detail (stay tuned to this blog). But what we are talking about now is how Azure is embracing this vision of the future.

In January of this year, Scott Guthrie — EVP of Microsoft Cloud and Enterprise — gave a keynote about Azure in Phoenix. As a part of the presentation he introduced Azure Functions (starts at about the 52 min. mark in this presentation). It is a built-in method to create event-based experiences in a serverless model.

If you remember back into the early days of Microsoft Azure, it was originally launched as a Platform-as-a-Service (PaaS) offering designed to bring us into the lofty world of true Grid-Computing. Turns out that neither the then-current state of technology nor the marketplace were ready. Microsoft scrambled and rejiggered their datacenters into a more conventional Infrastructure-as-a-Service (IaaS) operation on a par with conventional hosting. Azure Functions is evidence that Microsoft never lost their original PaaS/Grid vision and are still investing heavily in it.

February — Uncapped Patent Indemnification Coverage

From a business and marketing perspective, this is a stroke of pure genius in total alignment with the international zeitgeist.

There are literally hundreds of thousands of technology patents floating around. It may be reasonable to say that most of them are worthy protections of intellectual property (IP). But over the last few decades, so-called “patent trolls” have been acquiring and applying for patents with the pure intent of trapping/tricking unsuspecting technologists and entrepreneurs into frivolous infringement lawsuits where funds can be extorted.

These trolls are most often what the IP attorneys call “non-practicing entities,” which means that they are not building or doing anything good or productive with the patents. They are simply stalking the productive members of the tech universe and looking for ways to trip them up.

We all hate those guys.

In February, Microsoft Azure announced that they were providing “Microsoft Azure IP Advantage.” Basically, if a company is inventing technology on the Azure Cloud and gets sued by one of these patent-trolls, Microsoft itself will step in to deal with the lawsuit.

Just … think … about … that … for a moment. All those professional frivolous lawsuit guys out there extort onerous settlements from emerging tech companies because they have a team of lawyers and the entrepreneurs don’t. But we’re pretty sure that Microsoft has more lawyers and IP experience then just about anyone else, so let’s see what those court-room bullies do now.

Next, Microsoft released more than 10,000 of their patents into the Azure cloud. Meaning that if you are an Azure customer, you are free to use that technology. It’s just that simple. And if you are a continuing customer, all future patents that Microsoft releases will automatically transfer to you as well.

It’s simple. Microsoft understands that patents are important, but they are not the path to Microsoft’s success in the future … the platform is. So, in addition to investing in platform technology and physical datacenters with cash, they are investing the intrinsic value of their IP in customers who use the platform. And since none of the other guys in the Ama-Googleplex-Machine have that depth of IP portfolio, it’s a move that they can’t match.

It’s a genius move by Satya Nadella, CEO of Microsoft.

March — Some Troubles in the Cloud and New Blockchain Support

Azure had some issues in March, including two large outages (March 7th and March 21st) that knocked out major Microsoft services on the East Coast of the US for several hours and causing heartbreak and misery for users of Skype, Office 365, Outlook and … <gasp> Xbox Live.

But once the systems were restored and the aspirin had taken full effect, techies took notice of another cool announcement in the blue-colored cloud.

The problem with Bitcoin is that the inventors forgot to include an economist or two in the design of their digital currency. If they had, that economist might have been able to point out the inherent flaws in their “lack-of-monetary-system” system. But that’s the point, right? They weren’t economists, they were technical folks. But in the process of inventing Bitcoin, they actually implemented a practical application of something pretty cool and useful that is likely to improve the security of the digital world — Blockchain.

Microsoft released its first Azure Blockchain solution in November, 2016. This follows a mega-trend in hosted security that we are seeing across a huge variety of hosted services, including at Acronis backups and at security start-up StackPath. New in March, Microsoft added multi-member consortium support to their Blockchain options on the Azure platform — greatly increasing the types of data transfers and usage-cases that can be supported.

This trend is not going away, folks. If security is important to your business going forward, you need to understand this space.

More to Come in Q2

We are only a few weeks into Q2 and there are already some interesting releases and news items for Azure being discussed in the rumor mill. We will keep our ear to the network and send out another update as the info comes in.

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