Cloud Q&A: How Windows Azure Is Like Riding a Bicycle

Former Microsoft evangelist Steve Marx talks about Microsoft PaaS and his new role working with Windows Azure at Aditi Technologies.

Q: What were you doing in your last few years at Microsoft?
A: The last few months I was part of the marketing team for Windows Azure. My last job was as a technical product manager on the marketing team, doing blog posts, samples, talking with customers and broad developer outreach. Before that I was doing a similar job, but I was on the engineering team. I've been on the Azure team since the beginning. I started working on the SDK and gradually moved to explaining [Azure] to customers.

Q: What's your new role?
A: I'm now the chief Windows Azure architect for Aditi. It's getting back to more one-on-one kinds of interactions with customers. I'll still be making some videos and blog posts, but [the job is] more taking everything I know about Windows Azure and bringing that to Aditi, who's making this big push into the Windows Azure space.

Q: What is Aditi doing with Windows Azure?
A: I'd say the big inflection point for Aditi for the cloud was [in November 2011] when they acquired Cumulux, the Microsoft 2010 Cloud Partner of the Year. This was a big Windows Azure agency that was doing consulting, services and building some software too. They hired me and Nuno Godinho [a Windows Azure MVP]. Now we've got this wealth of talent and the architecture layer and the knowledge about what Microsoft is doing.

Aditi saw this pattern. I'll use health care as an example. Aditi had done a couple of Windows Azure engagements with a few players in health care. They observed that they were doing the same sort of thing over and over again: storing data, worrying about privacy of the data. We have the ability to develop our own reusable components and apply them from one engagement to another.

If we can get in with these customers, we get to reuse the components. Everybody wins. Customers get a solution that's faster and one that's vetted, and Aditi gets to scale.

Q: Why were you interested in leaving Microsoft now?
A: I'm doing two jobs these days. One is that I'm working on a startup, with one other cofounder. I don't have much to say about that yet. I was ready to try something new, build something myself. I've been doing the same thing for about three or four years at Microsoft. Aditi was nice enough to offer me the opportunity to take on this Windows Azure role while I was doing [the startup].

Q: In terms of the maturity of Windows Azure, what are its strengths and weaknesses at this time?
A: A coworker of mine once told me that Windows Azure was a lot like a bicycle: If you don't know how to ride one, it seems a lot easier to walk. If you do know how to use the bicycle, you're zipping around and you're loving life. There's almost nothing out there that matches Windows Azure's productivity. [But] Windows Azure is still in that place where, when you walk up to it, you don't know what to do with it.

Q: Coming from inside Microsoft, what do you think is important for customers and partners to know about Windows Azure?
A: I think it's good for customers and for everyone to understand what Windows Azure is about -- Platform as a Service [PaaS]. Everyone knew exactly what to do with Infrastructure as a Service [IaaS, such as Amazon EC2]. They weren't exactly sure with PaaS [for instance, Windows Azure.] PaaS is a different platform. You may not realize you're on multiple servers. You may get restarted in the middle. Everyone is moving [toward PaaS] -- even Amazon as you look at more of their recent stuff. I think we'll see Microsoft doing things with Windows Azure that look a little more infrastructure-y. It will be a mistake if people read into that about where this is all headed.

About the Author

Scott Bekker is editor in chief of Redmond Channel Partner magazine.