An Interview with Microsoft’s Ranga Rengarajan, Data Platform Services

Within the IT space, there’s a natural inclination to treat terms like “big data” and “data analytics” as buzzwords. Although these words might have been abused and beaten into our brains by various marketing teams, the reality is that the way in which businesses operate has changed thanks to the amount of data that’s available today. And it’s important to note that not only is there a tremendous push from business leaders to leverage and derive meaningful information from data, but that pressure also trickles down to in-the-trenches IT pros and DBAs to collect, secure, and utilize that data.

I recently had the chance to sit down and speak with Microsoft’s Ranga Rengarajan who heads up the Data Platform division. In our conversation, Rengarajan discussed the current state of working in today’s data environment, where he outlined the challenges that Microsoft faces to deliver a top-notch data solution that fits a wide variety of needs for a wide variety of users, along with his thoughts on Microsoft’s plans for the future where data is concerned.

Making Data Management Easier, Secure, and Fast for IT Pros and DBAs

To kick off our conversation, Rengarajan discussed the different ways in which businesses have changed thanks to the mass availability of data. Describing a “world that’s drunk on data,” Rengarajan noted that the everyday user is now plugged into multiple devices. This point was made clear when Ranga commented on my own three devices that sat in front of me during our interview.

Because of the everyday user’s thirst for data, there’s a growing complexity of needs and user scenarios, and there’s now several different scenarios where multi-headed applications are necessary. For example, if I’m listening to Spotify on the desktop, then there’s this expectation that my experience will carry over seamlessly through my smartphone app when I’m running an errand.

And it’s those sort of complexities that not only business organizations are tackling to remain competitive and relevant, but IT pros and DBAs must also face this complex data world head on.

“If you look at the IT pros in this world, they’re looking at this complexity that’s coming, and new sorts of applications that are polyglot-persistent applications. The application no longer is going against SQL or one particular place. We’ve got applications now that span IoT scenarios, that spans streaming scenarios, that spans intelligent systems—all of these different systems,” Rengarajan said.

And although part of Microsoft’s focus is in its mobile-first, cloud-first mantra, Rengarajan also acknowledged that IT pros and DBAs are essential to be successful. Speaking to challenges that that these two groups face, Rengarajan stated that Microsoft is working to make data availability and security easier for these groups.

“The IT pros have been a responsible, diligent bunch. They’re being the guardians of the most precious data in the enterprise. They take their job seriously. They want to make [solutions that are] reliable, predictable, always available, where data is never lost or corrupt. They carry a huge weight,” Ranga said.

As a result of these challenges, Rengarajan said that Microsoft’s mission is to make data management and availability more simple, by implementing standards and automating routine tasks.

“We want to make it secure. We want to make it easy. We want to make it fast. Simplify the environment,” Rengarajan said.

Bringing a Multitude of Choices to Microsoft’s Data Services

With the notion of this complex data world, I was curious as to how Microsoft deliberates on which core functionalities get delivered to Microsoft’s various data offerings.

Rengarajan stated that this decision-making process is two-fold. First, Microsoft focuses on customer feedback by trying to understand what are emerging capabilities that users need to do their jobs more effectively. Second, Microsoft also considers today’s complex cloud environment as a basis for the company’s decisions.

“There is a brand new world to explore. It’s the cloud world, and it’s our favorite world. We feel both the opportunity to serve our customers in this new world and also the obligation to take them along on the journey at a pace that makes sense for their businesses,” Ranga explained.

With this in mind, Microsoft has strongly focused on bringing hybrid cloud solutions to customers in recent months. With the introduction of Azure SQL Data Warehouse, this new solution lets users independently decouple compute and storage. Azure Data Lake is also an example of a new offering from Microsoft that’s described as a hyper-scale repository that supports structured and semi-structured data with no storage limitations on individual files. I asked Ranga if he could elaborate on cloud adoption within Microsoft’s customer base.

“We’re seeing wonderful reception for the cloud because we’re taking the approach that you don’t have to be all in or not in,” Ranga explained.

Stated differently, Microsoft is working hard to make sure that options aren’t a one-sided push toward the cloud, but rather providing the right solution for the right scenario.

“It’s not an either/or situation. It’s a transition process… more than, this is no longer good, that’s better….We respect all requirements of customers, and we get them to work where they need to go,” Rengarajan said.

Rengarajan went on to explain how Microsoft approaches this with SQL Server. Not only can you run SQL Server on-premise, but you can also run it in the cloud in IIS. Through this approach, the cloud looks very much like a server, the only difference being that size can be easily changed to accommodate different needs, which is a great advantage.

“With IIS, some people feel very comfortable by having full control of the environment, but when the solution is in the cloud, you get some elasticity,” he explained.

Rengarajan also explained that Azure SQL Database is another example of a hybrid-cloud solution. In addition to different service tiers and geographical replicas, what used to take an inordinate amount of time planning and setting up a similar solution, the process now is a simple drag-and-drop click process that can easily be replicated across different regions.

Tips for IT Pros for a Successful Future with Data

As we wrapped up our conversation, I asked Ranga if there was anything he’d like to share with our readers.

“Our DBAs have been the protectors and guardians of the most precious data in the enterprise. We’ve depended on them to keep it safe, keep it available, and keep it with consistent high integrity. They have an opportunity, I think this is an incredible opportunity, personally for their careers and for their companies to take leadership in this new world,” Ranga said.

Ranga noted that sometimes it can be easy to get discouraged with new features and capabilities coming to surface at once.

“There’s no amount of talking that will be as helpful as playing with some stuff,” Ranga said to IT pros who are wanting to further their careers in this new complex, data environment.

Because everything is in the cloud, Ranga advised that users don’t try to immediately solve a problem, but first become familiar with new tools.

And for IT pros and DBAs who are concerned that their everyday jobs will be boiled into simplicity via automation, Ranga states that these functionalities are not a threat.

“The world is expecting the same IT pros to handle this much larger and complex, more exciting environment and still keep it safe…. I think they have a great opportunity and all of this simplication should looked at as a help, not a threat,” Ranga said.