In-depth Q&A: Microsoft's Bob Muglia details cloud strategy

And he explains what firms should do now to prep for a move to the cloud
Microsoft's Bob Muglia

Microsoft's Bob Muglia

Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer says the software giant is "all in" when it comes to cloud computing and he's relying on Bob Muglia to play the hand in this high-stakes game. As president of the nearly $15 billion Server and Tools Division of Microsoft, Muglia controls key data center products like Windows Server, SQL Server and System Center, as well as the Windows Azure platform-as-a-service (Paas) offering that is a key underpinning of the company's cloud strategy.

In this interview with IDG Enterprise Chief Content Officer John Gallant and InfoWorld.com Editor in Chief Eric Knorr, Muglia talked about how customers are making the move to cloud and what they need to be doing right now. He also staked Microsoft's claim to leadership in the emerging cloud market, talked about the Windows Azure private-cloud appliance and explained what customers can learn from the City of Los Angeles' challenges using Google Apps.

How do you envision customers making the transition to the cloud? The thing about the cloud is that it really is the delivery of IT as a service and customers being able to adopt services to run their business. It's happening at somewhat different paces based on the workload. We see some workloads like e-mail collaboration that are moving very, very rapidly towards the cloud.

Virtually every customer that we're working with on e-mail is having a conversation about [whether it] is time for them to move those workloads into a cloud service. Many are choosing yes. We're being very successful with our business productivity online services and helping customers make that transition with those workloads.

Some are saying, 'Well, maybe it isn't really the time for me. Maybe I have some regulatory issues. Maybe I feel like I run the operation efficiently myself and it's not my business issue at the moment.' But it is a conversation that is happening almost everywhere, and it is a set of workloads that is moving very, very rapidly. We see other workloads like CRM probably moving pretty quickly because of the distributed -- geographic -- nature of the force of people that work with CRM.

There are other business applications that are very well suited for the cloud. I think about an application that requires significant amounts of computing horsepower for a period of time, but then may not require it all the time, like high-performance applications, simulations, modeling, things like that. Or they're areas where you're reaching out and connecting to your supply chain or to your partners -- your sales partners and distributors.

Those are also good examples of business applications that need to be built. They're not standardized apps like e-mail, but they are business applications that are well suited to the cloud.

How are you helping customers make the transition?

We're helping customers across virtually all of these workloads in the sense that we're providing world-class messaging and collaborative services that we deliver with our SharePoint Online and our Exchange Online. We're able to move customers that are on premises [into] those products, but also effectively move customers from other environments.

Some legacy customers are coming from, say, a Notes environment, [where] the cost of ownership in running that is a bit higher -- significantly higher, actually -- than, say, an Exchange installation is. The economic case for moving from an existing on-premises Notes installation to a cloud-provided Exchange and SharePoint is a very easy business case to justify. That's one set of examples.

In the creation of business applications, we're working to make it simple for people to take their existing applications that they've written, many of which are running on Windows Server today, and help move them into cloud environments -- whether it be a private cloud or a public cloud like Windows Azure.

How do you define private cloud?

The definitions of cloud have been something the industry has really struggled with. I think, first of all, it's helpful that the industry is really clarifying itself, saying that cloud is IT as a service, providing IT as a service. That by itself is a fairly big step in getting clarity. Then, I think the real question is where is the cloud running and is it dedicated to an individual customer? I think of a private cloud as something that is running inside a customer data center and is dedicated to their own business applications. Then you have public clouds, which are shared across multiple organizations. Windows Azure is an example of that. We have shared examples of our Exchange and SharePoint Online services, but we are also offering dedicated SharePoint and Exchange where we run it and, yet, it's dedicated to a customer.

What do you think IT leaders should be doing differently or better in the way that they're moving toward or viewing cloud?

The most important thing is that customers begin to understand how cloud could be used to solve their business needs. Again, we are having that conversation with virtually every customer with workloads like messaging and collaboration. That's relatively universal. I'm not going to say to every customer, 'You should all move to the cloud right now,' because it may not meet their business needs. But I do recommend that every customer evaluate it for those sets of workloads.

When it comes to business applications, customers are in a different state of adoption. Some are really aggressively looking at applications that they can move into a cloud environment. Some are relatively aggressively looking at how they can build their own private clouds. And there are a number of organizations that are still more nascent there. What I would recommend that every organization do is take a look at their business applications pick at least one to move to Windows Azure in a public cloud. I was talking to a large financial services organization not that long ago that has about 4,500 applications. And my feedback to them was, 'Choose. I know you've got all these regulatory issues. You're global, all these things. [But] there's one of those applications that you could move to a public cloud. Choose it and really begin and start working on that.

More about: Amazon, Cisco, EMC, Excel, Google, Hewlett-Packard, HP, IBM, IBM Australia, IDG, Microsoft, MSN, Salesforce.com, VMware, Xbox
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