Microsoft Cloud Exec Touts Azure's Growth, Says AWS Is 'Struggling'

Amazon Web Services (AWS) may be the current cloud leader, but growing competition from Microsoft Azure and the cloud price war are putting a dent on its lead.

That's one of the takeaways from a Tuesday keynote speech by Mark Russinovich, Microsoft technical fellow in the company's Cloud and Enterprise Division, at the TechMentor conference, which is taking place this week on Microsoft's Redmond, Wash., campus. (Disclosure: TechMentor, like RCP magazine, is produced by 1105 Media.)

During his presentation, Russinovich underscored the edge Microsoft sees itself having over its key rival. Russinovich argued that competition from Microsoft contributed to Amazon's disappointing quarterly earnings report last month, which rattled investors. "Amazon Web Services is struggling in the face of pricing pressure by us and Google," Russinovich said. "People are starting to realize we're in it to win."

Market researchers last month pointed to Microsoft and IBM as the vendors that are gaining the most ground on AWS in the public cloud.

Regardless, Amazon still has a growing cloud business, and is seen as the leader for enterprise Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS). As noted by investment researcher Zacks, Amazon reported  a 90 percent usage growth for its AWS cloud business. While Amazon doesn't break out revenues and profits for AWS, it is included in the category of "Other," which now accounts for 6 percent of revenues. Experts believe AWS generated the majority of its revenues in that "Other" category.

"AWS continues to launch new services and enhance the security of its services," according to the Zacks report. "Amazon again reduced prices significantly, which was the reason for the revenue decline in the last quarter."

Azure Advances
Azure hosts 300,000 active Web sites and 1 million active database services, Russinovich said. The Azure Storage service has just surpassed 30 trillion objects with 3 million active requests per second at peak times. Russinovich also said that 57 percent of Fortune 500 companies are using Azure.

He added that Azure Active Directory (AD), which organizations can federate with their on-premises versions of Active Directory, now has 300 million accounts and 13 billion authentication requests per week. Russinovich emphasized Microsoft's advantage with Azure AD and the cloud service's emphasis on identity.

"Azure Active Directory is the center of our universe," Russinovich said. "When you take a look at all the places where you need identity, whether it's a [third-party] SaaS service or whether Microsoft's own, like Office 365, you look at custom line-of-business apps that enterprises are developing and they want to integrate their own identity services."

Throughout his talk, Russinovich emphasized Microsoft's focus on its hybrid cloud delivery model and the security layers that can extend to the public Azure cloud. To that point, Azure AD's role in supporting hybrid clouds is "it supports ways you can foist identities to the cloud so that they're accessible from all of these targets, line-of-business apps in the cloud and Microsoft's own cloud platforms."

The primary way to achieve that is to federate an Azure AD tenant with the on-premises Active Directory service, Russinovich said. "What that means is when someone goes and authenticates, they get pointed at Azure Active Directory in the cloud. Their identities are already there and the authentication flow goes to an Active Directory-federated server on-premises that verifies the password and produces the token."

It uses OAuth 2 for authentication, he said. Microsoft plans to integrate OAuth 2.0 into Windows Server and all Azure services, though Russinovich noted it supports other token services such as SAML and other identity services from the likes of Facebook, Google and others.

One area Microsoft still needs to deliver on for Azure is role-based access control, which is in preview now, Russinovich said. "This will be fleshed out so we have a consistent authorization story all pointing to Azure Active Directory, which lets you not just connect on-premises to Active Directory through ADFS, but these third-party consumer services, as well. That's a key point -- you want identity to be enabled in the cloud," he said.

Another area in which Microsoft has taken a leadership role of sorts is in cloud privacy. Microsoft has said it will continue to oppose law enforcement agencies' efforts to subpoena user data, and plans to appeal a court decision last week ordering the company to turn over data stored in a Dublin datacenter.

"Brad Smith, our head of legal, is probably now the face of the tech industry, going out and fighting the United States government's efforts to get access to data that they probably won't get access to," Russinovich said. "We're really trying to make sure we're a great partner for customers that care about data privacy."

When it comes to the public cloud, Russinovich discussed the significant demand for cloud services such as storage and disaster recovery. Russinovich demonstrated a few offerings including the new Azure ExpressRoute, which, through third-party ISPs and colocation operators, can provide high-speed, dedicated, private connections between two datacenters using Azure as a bridge or connect directly to Azure. Other demos included point-to-site VPN and Web apps using Azure.

Russinovich also gave a nod to Azure's broad support for those who want to create PowerShell scripts to add more automation. "Everything in Azure is PowerShell-enabled because Jeffrey Snover [its revered inventor and Microsoft distinguished engineer and lead architect] makes us enable everything from PowerShell," Russinovich quipped.

About the Author

Jeffrey Schwartz is editor of Redmond magazine and also covers cloud computing for Virtualization Review's Cloud Report. In addition, he writes the Channeling the Cloud column for Redmond Channel Partner. Follow him on Twitter @JeffreySchwartz.