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There and back again…

From May 2018 on I have the pleasure of joining Avanade in Switzerland as Group Manager for the cloud and digital solution areas. Avanade is a company that I have been observing for quite some time due to its clear focus on Microsoft technologies and its global reach. After more than seven years with Microsoft itself (2008 – 2016) and a refreshing excursion to Salesforce (2017 – 2018), I decided to increase my consulting activities and focus again fully on the Microsoft cloud platform. Exactly as in the years before I left Microsoft, when I was one of the first employees in Switzerland to focus entirely on Azure. In my first article, I would like to illustrate the development of the Azure platform over the years, supplemented with some personal experiences and views.

The Beginning

Initially set up as an internal initiative with the code name Project Red Dog, Microsoft`s Ray Ozzie announced its first community technology preview (CTP) under the Windows Azure label in 2008, and no one could have imagined how fundamentally and sustainable this would change the company and its ecosystem. At that time, the focus was on a pure developer platform with a limited set of developer (.NET services) and data (SQL Database) services including computing, network and storage capabilities (Windows Azure) – basically extending Windows to the cloud.

It`s designed to be the foundation, to be the bedrock, underneath all of Microsoft`s service offerings for consumers and business alike.
― Ray Ozzie, Oct. 27, 2008

My first hands-on touch point with the Azure platform was during 2011, at a Microsoft internal training event. Cloud computing was (at least in the Swiss market) still a rather exotic topic – most of discussions with customers revolved around why one should NOT use the cloud. The understanding of the underlying business model and the associated technologies were still in its beginnings. The positioning of cloud services at this time was mainly based on the following factors:

Speed

  • In times when it took weeks or months to deploy a new server, the speed with which new cloud services could be deployed was breath-taking and opened completely new possibilities for the prototyping of new solution approaches: instead of just one new idea, a whole number of new business scenarios could suddenly be played out.
  • Especially the combination of classic infrastructure elements such as virtual machines and networking with highly automated data services such as SQL database or analytics was particularly in demand at that time.
  • Several customers also focused very early on the possibilities of application development in the public cloud, especially customer facing websites. A good example was the newly established Swiss Mediamarkt online shop, which is completely based on Azure.

Scale

  • The public cloud promised unlimited scaling of resources at the push of a button, or even fully automated. Achieving a similar approach in traditional infrastructure environments, whether virtualized or not, was not possible at all or only at enormous costs.
  • The extremely low costs of the different storage types on Azure was an area that aroused great interest – whether for long-term archiving of data records or the backup of large amounts of data into the cloud. At that time, the newly acquired product StorSimple as a hybrid storage solution was also of great interest.
  • Furthermore, scale-out mechanisms were particularly requested in the use of app services and infrastructure environments, for example in order to be able to react to seasonal load peaks directly and without any lead time.

Economics

  • One of the great promises of the public cloud was the possibility of cost optimization – be it with the redistribution from Capex to Opex or with the possibility to only pay for exactly those services that were effectively used for your solution based on a consumption-based billing system.
  • The public cloud allowed every company to use a global infrastructure at a stroke – and thus offering its customers an optimized service in all markets of the world without having to invest in complex infrastructure and network connections.

At this stage between 2011 and 2014, none of the major customers in Switzerland had a clear vision of using cloud services let alone a consistent cloud strategy. The Azure services were used selectively, mostly in connection with infrastructure projects as test and development environments or for the rapid development of non-critical business applications within the organization. Switzerland, with its traditional values around confidentiality (keyword banking secrecy) on the one hand and with a generally good financial situation for companies on the other, was a challenging environment for cloud providers at that time to establish broader usage of cloud technologies.

Present Time

As part of Salesforce for the last two years and in view of the current development of Microsoft in Switzerland (keyword Azure Datacenter in Switzerland) I see a rapid development in the adoption and integration of public cloud services within all company sizes. This in particular across industries – banks start to deploy critical workloads on the Azure platform and I`m aware of an insurance company within Switzerland that currently designs it`s entire customer journey process including customer data based on a public cloud environment. Hardly any larger company today has no public cloud strategy or is at least in the definition phase what such a strategy would look like. Things are moving at an incredible speed! Some observations from a personal perspective:

Full migration versus tactical deployments

Customers who decide for a complete migration to the cloud with all their workloads are still very rare – PostNL comes to my mind here, and I know from at least one Swiss customer with an empty datacenter 2020 strategy. Business critical and complex workloads like SAP environments become interesting targets for enterprise cloud environment. While most customers are still outlining their overall cloud strategy – the tactical usage of cloud environments has become very common.

Software, Apps, Infrastructure

The boundaries between the previously described layers SaaS, PaaS and IaaS are becoming less and less important. The provider that can offer a layer-spanning approach to meet the various business requirements has a clear advantage over a niche manufacturer in the context of a comprehensive cloud strategy.

Multi layer integration

Today’s enterprise environments are extremely complex and are not made easier by using different cloud solutions. In addition to the established platform providers there are many specialized solutions that provide certain business capabilities (e.g. HR, Sales, Marketing, …). And many of these providers also provide a platform which allows to create apps and own solutions in certain areas (examples are ServiceNow or Workday). For this reason, integration is becoming an increasingly central point within a cloud strategy. I will gladly dedicate my own series of articles to this topic – what does a landscape look like when Azure, AWS, Salesforce, ServiceNow and Workday are all in use?

A look into the Future

Very few vendors can offer their customers a true and complete platform approach across all layers of the cloud (software, apps, infrastructure) with the flexible option to choose the deployment model. This has already impressed me in the past and precisely because I had the opportunity to go into more detail with other platform providers, I see the advantages of using the Microsoft platform more than ever. With ongoing further developments in important fields of innovation such as artificial intelligence and the consolidation and standardization of the cloud portfolio on an integrated platform, further strategic customer projects will not be long in coming. I am very excited to be back in the Microsoft Azure environment, embracing the possibility to plan and implement complex and exciting projects together with our customers.

Lorenz is a Group Manager for Cloud & Digital at Avanade based out of Zurich, Switzerland. He supports customers on their enterprise cloud adoption and transformation programs with a main focus on Microsoft Azure. Before joining Avanade, Lorenz was a Consultant and Technical Solution Specialist at Microsoft Corporation for more than 7 years and a Cloud Platform Specialist at Salesforce.

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