Microsoft, Azure and the PaaS push against Amazon

Profile picture for user slauchlan By Stuart Lauchlan March 12, 2015
PaaS or IaaS - Mike Schutz, Microsoft’s General Manager, Cloud Platform Product Marketing, explains Azure's pitch against the likes of Amazon and Google.

Mike Schutz
Mike Schutz

It's early days in PaaS, so it's going to be interesting to see how it all plays out.

That was the view of Mike Schutz, Microsoft’s General Manager, Cloud Platform Product Marketing at this week’s Nomura Software Conference in New York, as he pitched his company’s vision of Platform as a Service in a market in which the likes of Amazon and Google are emerging as tough competitors.

Schutz confirmed:

Because Microsoft Azure was early in the market in PaaS, we feel like we're in a good spot, but you can definitely see that Google and AWS are investing in those places.

Schutz explained:

Azure really started in Platform-as-a-Service. It was where the design point for where we believed the market would go long term, and then subsequently we have built out the infrastructure, the service offering to meet what customers where they are today.

From listening to customers that are doing it and getting the benefits of moving to Platform-as-a-Service, we’re moving the complexity of managing all the underlying parts…for their development organizations to be able to respond to the business more rapidly, because Microsoft is taking and managing that underlying stack from the app down instead of from the operating system down.

So from an operating standpoint, we believe we have a more mature offering in Platform-as-a-Service and because of the footprint that we have with developers today. We have millions of .NET developers that are building applications on premises and in the cloud every day and millions of developers that are using the Visual Studio tool set to be able to build those applications. So we’re very much working with customers focused very heavily on DevOps and the developer productivity that Platform-as-a-Service brings.

He cited as a case in point the example of weather application provider AccuWeather:

AccuWeather is today on Azure. They looked at the other alternatives in the market, including Amazon, they opted for Platform-as-a-Service on Azure. Today, they process roughly 6 billion requests per month for weather and temperature forecasting.

They originally started with an on-premises infrastructure, but found that because the usage of their app, of course, follows the weather pattern, and when you have got bad weather coming, it spikes extremely high. They had trouble keeping up with the scale or building out the capacity to be able to handle or predict what was going to happen.

They also wanted to be able to go out globally, and so what we provided them is a global infrastructure that scales on demand and lets them write less code and manage less of the infrastructure and scale the demands of their customers. It is extremely powerful.

They used to take months to do a proof of concept; now they can do it in days. It’s the agility for them to respond to the needs and feedback they're getting from their customers, it's just tremendous, and that's largely powered by the efficiency they can get from the cloud and Platform-as-a-Service.


There are differentiators between Microsoft and the public cloud competitiors, he added, most notably when it comes to the concept of hyper scale:

We have the broadest set of regions world-wide from any public cloud provider at 19 regions. By way of comparison that’s twice as many as AWS, and for a Google's Cloud Platform, it's about 3 times that of Google.

What that does is it puts Azure as close as we can to our customers. Customers care about that. They want to have their cloud provider in their geography, in their region, for multiple reasons, from a data sovereignty standpoint, geopolitical reasons, but also just from a practicality of an end-user experience standpoint. You can't really change the speed of light, and so you want to have the proximity of the cloud service close to your customers and ultimately their customers.

In order to do that, we've invested significantly in building out this global infrastructure to power our cloud service, and so you have seen us do that over the last several years, increasing our footprint into regions like Australia, into China. We have announced that we will be going into India this year, and so continuing to grow that global footprint so that we can be where our customers are and provide the global reach, but the local touch.

Platform As A Service
This reach narrows down the sell-side choice for many enterprises on the buy-side, argued Schutz:

If you think about hyperscale, there is a couple other vendors that could invest at that scale and have that global reach, but it really does shrink the consideration set for customers, because a lot of the traditional on-premises vendors won’t and haven't invested in the public cloud at that scale. So once you are through that that hyperscale lens, you are down to just a couple of vendors.

Then our differentiation as it relates to the public cloud vendors, like AWS, is really around our focus around being enterprise grade and hybrid. Our roots are deep in selling and working with enterprises. We have a global sales and support organization. We have a partner ecosystem of hundreds of thousands of partners that sell and support and deploy our solutions. Customers, particularly in the commercial space, want that local touch and that local reach. That enterprise grade is a key differentiator for us because selling to this commercial segment, the enterprise segment, is nothing new for us.

So, is Amazon the enemy of choice? Schultz was cautious in his comments:

I can’t really speak, obviously, to where AWS is going to invest, but we do believe that where our investments have been in terms of building the Platform-as-a-Service layer that is inclusive of data, and then our hybrid cloud approach, will continue to be differentiating the market.

I think we're both in the Infrastructure-as-a-Service market, and today there is a large number of customers that start with Infrastructure-as-a-Service. We don’t view that as the destination. We believe that that Infrastructure-as-a-Service is a great place to start. It's easy for customers to get started there because they understand, because of virtualization, the concept of taking a virtual machine and putting it in the cloud and running it that way.

One of the things that our customers are finding with Infrastructure-as-a-Service is while it's great for certain workloads, it still inherits some of the same complexity that running virtualization on premises does. You still have to manage the operating system inside that virtual machine and so forth.

So hybrid cloud services as well as thinking about Platform-as-a-service are areas where we do distinctly differentiate.

My take

An interesting perspective and a timely reminder of the influence of DevOps.