Jun 05

Great InfoWorld Interview with Mark Russinovich on Azure and Cloud Computing

InfoWorld has a great Interview with Mark Russinovich, Microsoft Technical Fellow, on Azure and Cloud Computing.
I included my favorite quotes below:


Mark Russinovich is a legendary figure in the computer industry. A former teenage hacker who went on to earn a PhD in computer engineering from Carnegie Mellon, Russinovich cofounded Winternals Software — a Windows utilities vendor renowned for understanding the guts of Windows as well as Microsoft itself.

After a stint at IBM’s Thomas J. Watson Research Center and after discovering a number of high-profile Windows security vulnerabilities, not to mention the infamous Sony rootkit[1], Russinovich joined Microsoft when Winternals was acquired in 2006. Russinovich is also an accomplished novelist, whose cyberthrillers Zero Day and Trojan Horse have been well received (the third novel in the series, Rogue Code, comes out this May).

Today, Russinovich is a Technical Fellow, the highest technical position at Microsoft. He’s the sole Technical Fellow in the Windows Azure Group, acting as lead architect for Microsoft’s bet-the-company cloud initiative — $15 billion have been invested in cloud infrastructure to date. Much of what Russinovich has been working on pertains to the complex automation necessary to manage that cloud infrastructure at scale. The interview began with an examination of Azure technology and moved to broader concerns about IT’s march to the public cloud. The folllowing is an edited version.

On Microsoft Cloud Transparency:

I think that’s one place where we’ve been way more transparent than anybody else. I’ve given talks for three years since I joined Azure at TechEd and Build on Windows Azure Internals about how our virtual machine technology is implemented and how we implement that multitenancy. You don’t see Amazon or Google talking about that.

Azure Overview:

Sure. When it comes to virtual machines, which are really the building blocks of the cloud, we’ve got pools of servers, we’ve got something called a fabric controller, which is like the brain.

The Azure fabric. And that manages a pool of machines. And then there’s an application front-end, a virtual machine deployment front-end we call RDFE — Red Dog Front End. Red Dog is a carryover from Microsoft from Azure’s code name.

Here’s what happens when a customer deploys a PaaS application (what we call a Cloud Service, a collection of virtual machines) or when they deploy IaaS as virtual machines: It goes to RDFE, then RDFE finds a fabric controller that has, based on heuristics, the best utilization and capacity available for the deployment and gives the deployment to the fabric controller, which then goes and finds servers to deploy the virtual machines onto.

It uses a bunch of heuristics as well as constraint satisfaction to figure out which servers are the ones that the virtual machines should land on. We’ve got the concept of update domains and fault domains [5], so that when the infrastructure is being updated we don’t take down the whole application. We split the application across different servers so that when we’re servicing the infrastructure of the servers, it’s only taking down a slice of the application.

Regarding the future of computing:

When I joined Microsoft, I’d done a lot of Windows stuff before, but operating systems had already pretty much matured. I mean, Windows today in the internals isn’t very different than 20 years ago, and Linux is the same way — just like UNIX back in the ’70s.

This cloud operating system, data center operating system, is brand new. So the problems are new, the algorithms are new, the computer science is new. How do you detect failures quickly? How do you respond to them? How do you best do resource allocation?

Active Directory as the central piece of Azure:

One of the most valuable assets that we recognize within Microsoft when it comes to cloud and getting that integration is Windows Azure Active Directory.

The name is not a mistake. It’s completely deliberate because Active Directory became the center of on-premises network architecture. And we see Windows Azure Active Directory becoming that for the cloud.

Cloud Technology is in it’s infancy:

We’re constantly adding new functionality and features. Like I said, the cloud is new. If you look at the mature environment of the on-premises IT world, there’s not just one thing that does whatever you want it to, but probably 20 or 30 different vendors that offer products that do what you’re talking about. The cloud is not there yet. There are a lot of holes in the basic functionality, in the layered functionality of the services that would be added on top of that. This is why it’s going to be just a great economic opportunity for lots of people.

IT Career Advice:

If you look at the evolution of IT, people aren’t doing today what they were doing ten years ago. Change has just been a fact of life all along.

Now, of course, some changes are bigger than others. But change has been there all along. And if you’re not adapting, you shouldn’t be in this business. IT professionals, I think, have to step up and play a key role in this migration for their companies. Because if they don’t, shadow IT is just going to go around them


Read the rest of the interview at InfoWorld.


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