Microsoft pitches software platform resilience as key to the cloud

A utility mindset is essential for enterprises to trust the cloud

Establishing trust in the cloud is about building resilience into the software platform rather than the physical data centres, according to Microsoft.

The software giant's international area data centre manager, John Dwyer told Computerworld Australia that cloud services had to be thought of as a utility, rather than a product.

"Today when I plug my laptop into the wall, I don't really consciously think about where the power is coming from or how it's being generated," he said. "I just assume that it's going to be there.

"It comes down to that expectation that says 'it's up, it's working, it's always available.' What we have to do is make sure our architecture is flexible enough to deal with those different scenarios."

While getting to that level of trust is going to take time, Dwyer urged the industry as well as Microsoft to responsibly foster that trust through focusing on the strength of the cloud service, rather than the servers that power the cloud.

"You really want to get to the point where I can turn that server off, and you as the consumer or enterprise are not affected," he said.

Microsoft runs an increasingly expansive range of cloud services, from its storage and application deployment platform Azure to the Sharepoint and Skydrive services it delivers to enterprises and consumers respectively. These are hosted on four data centres Microsoft has designed and built specifically, as well as others it leases around the world.

Dwyer is responsible for the operations of Microsoft's data centres outside of the US. This only includes one of Microsoft's own data centres - the Dublin centre opened last year - but also covers Amsterdam, Hong Kong, Japan, Singapore and other centres Microsoft does not publicly disclose.

However, Australia remains a touchy topic for the corporation on this front. Dwyer declined to say whether Microsoft owns or runs a data centre in Australia, though the director of the company's local server business group, Phil Goldie, told Computerworld Australia that it could look at one if demand grows.

Dwyer said Microsoft considered roughly 35 different factors when choosing to build a new data centre, including cost, stability and tax risk. The proximity to larger global markets is also a factor, though Dwyer wouldn't say if Microsoft considered Australia a significant market.

"You don't typically look at any market in isolation, what you look at is the patterns within a geography," he said.

Australia's closest Microsoft data centre, in Singapore, delivers faster bandwidth for storage and computing than what can be achieved coming out of the US and Europe, but at an inflated price point.

Dwyer said the cost of running leased data centres was substantially more than fully-owned centres, but that this shouldn't affect end-user data transfer pricing.

While the difference in Azure pricing makes the geological factor more visible to end-users, Microsoft's other cloud services such as Sharepoint are closer to Dwyer's vision.

The software platform resilience of Microsoft's services will increase significantly, Dwyer claimed, when the company moves to its Generation 4 modular data centre design. The company is running proofs of concept on its new design, which would see the data centre made up of pre-assembled components in a modular environment that can be scaled up and down as necessary to avoid running redundant clusters.

Microsoft expects to make savings with its new design over the $US500 million it spends on its existing data centre designs, called "Quincy", however, Dwyer would not say by how much. This reduction in cost should, in theory, drive down the cost of service delivery for end-users.

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