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Vendor lock-in is truly a TERRIBLE idea ... says, er, Microsoft

How the cloud taught Redmond to play by a new set of rules

Man in an orange jumpsuit clutches prison bars. Image by Shutterstock

Comment When it comes to building applications for the cloud, John Gossman thinks agility and portability are essential. "You don't want to get locked in too much to a particular vendor, strategy, technology, whatever," he says.

Gossman's advice should shock nobody. What might surprise you, though, is that he works for Microsoft.

Ten months into Satya Nadella's tenure as CEO, it's getting harder and harder to make the case that the Microsoft of today is the same company that it was even a year ago.

Whether it's Nadella's claim that "Microsoft loves Linux," or the decision to open source the entire .Net framework, or Redmond's recent partnership with Docker to bring its Linux container technology to Windows Server, today's Microsoft seems uncharacteristically willing to admit that it will never rule the IT ocean – and even, perhaps, that it's more productive to swim with the tide than against it.

"I've never walked into an enterprise that is all Windows or all Linux or anything," Gossman admitted, speaking at the inaugural DockerCon EU conference in Amsterdam on Friday. "And that includes Microsoft. We have, just from Skype alone, a big set of Linux things."

Gossman is no fresh-faced agitator looking to change Redmond from within, either. A 15-year veteran of the firm, he came to Microsoft when it acquired Visio in late 1999. Since then, he's played a pivotal role in developing Silverlight and the Windows Presentation Foundation, among other projects.

These days, he's an architect with the Azure group – and that's key, because if any one thing seems to be driving Microsoft's change of tune, it's the ascension of the cloud.

As Gossman pointed out in a panel discussion at DockerCon on Friday, if you're in charge of an IT department today, there's probably someone higher up the food chain who is asking you what your cloud strategy is – and your answer better not be that you're going to run all of your applications in your own data center.

"Unless you're in some highly regulated industry, you're probably going to get fired," Gossman said.

Likewise, he added, you aren't likely to last long if your plan is to pick a single public cloud vendor and host everything there.

"You should get fired," Gossman said, "though you might confuse the guy enough to keep your job for a while."

It might be tempting to assume that this kind of talk is the result of Microsoft venturing into unfamiliar territory; that while Redmond might have dominated the on-premises software business, it can't hack it in the cloud. But that simply isn't the case. By most analysts' estimates, Microsoft Azure is now the second largest public cloud vendor, trailing only the 800-pound gorilla of Amazon Web Services.

It didn't happen overnight, and it didn't happen by accident. Redmond has been burning through cash in its bid for pole position in the cloud race. It spent $5.5bn on "additions to property and equipment" in its fiscal 2014, which ended on June 30, and it's a good bet that a huge chunk of that went to building data centers. It was also 29 per cent more than the $4.3bn that Amazon spent in the same period.

But the market for cloud services simply isn't the same as the traditional software markets that Microsoft grew up with. Once, Microsoft could have sold Windows into an organization with the expectation that it could lock the customer into its platform for the next ten years or more. That's not going to happen with the cloud.

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