TechEd 2014 Interview: Mark Russinovich on Microsoft Azure

If you attended Microsoft TechEd North America 2014 this year, you more than likely know who Mark Russinovich is. In addition to being a Technical Fellow working with the development team on Microsoft Azure, Russinovich is a well-known IT conference speaker. He’s so well-known that his sessions at TechEd were routinely filled to capacity, prompting some conference attendees to take to Twitter to express their opinion on the need for larger conference rooms for Russinovich sessions.

In addition to his work on Azure, Russinovich has a long history in the IT industry. His Winternals software company (with co-founder Bryce Cogswell) was launched in 1996, which produced the now-ubiquitous (and still updated) Windows Sysinternals suite of software utilities. He also uncovered the infamous Sony DRM rootkit in 2005, and he’s also written three fiction novels focused on IT security: Zero Day, Trojan Horse, and the just-released Rogue Code.

Microsoft Technical Fellow Mark Russinovich
Microsoft Technical Fellow Mark Russinovich (Source: Mark Russinovich)

I had the opportunity to sit down with Mark for a 30-minute interview at Microsoft TechEd 2014, where we discussed the Microsoft Azure announcements from the show, what the growth of the cloud means for IT professionals, and provided some tips and advice for system administrators looking to beef up their cloud skills.

Editor’s Note: This interview has been edited for space and clarity.

Jeff James: Let’s start with a discussion about the [Microsoft TechED 2014] keynote. The keynote had a ton of Azure news: There’s all sorts of updates to Azure, and I know that reflects the way that a cloud service like Azure is developed, as updates come very quickly. When looking at all the Azure announcements, what would you suggest that IT pros pay the most attention to? What are the standout three or four things they should take away from the Azure announcements?

Mark Russinovich: Great question. I think if you look at all the Azure announcements, they were all aimed at hybrid [cloud environments] in some way…such as IT pros that are working in on prem environments, and think they might move to the cloud eventually, or move to the cloud when they have an app or scenario that spans on prem and the cloud. Or they want to do dev-test and bring stuff back on-prem because they’re just playing with the cloud or using it for some initial “tipping the toe” scenarios.
A key announcement was ExpressRoute and the GA [general availability] of that. ExpressRoute is the ability to take leased lines through an ISP or in to a fiber hotel, then get that wired into an Azure data center with different levels of provision bandwidth so your traffic stays off the open Internet and you get quality of service.

Jeff: Almost like a VPN?

Mark: Yeah, it is. And then there were some related, minor, announcements yesterday related to networking and hybrid networking. Like we had multiple point to site, so before our point to site VPN solution only allowed one point to connect into an Azure virtual network, and now we support multiple different sites [Multiple Site-to-Site and Inter VNET (VNET-to-VNET)] to have that connection into Azure.
Then we also have virtual network or virtual network bridging or connecting. That’s a scenario that some of our customers that have moved into the cloud with lift and shift kind of applications, server applications, wanted for regional disaster recovery and fail over.
SQL Server AlwaysOn allows you to fail over SQL Server from one server to another. That’s used commonly within a single data center, so if a server fails the SQL Server remains up from the perspective of delivering service to its clients. But, people thinking more about risks, extend beyond just a single server failing to a whole region failing or becoming unavailable, want SQL Server’s AlwaysOn failover from one region to another.
In Azure, that really wasn’t possible because the only way to communicate between regions was to use public IP addresses. People didn’t want to put SQL servers on a public IP addresses. And so this virtual network to virtual network connection lets you deploy SQL server and a virtual network in one region and SQL server and another virtual network in a second region then have gateways to connect those to virtual networks so they can talk to each other.

Jeff: When you say regions, is it within in a country or dispersed globally?

Mark: It can actually be dispersed globally. We have a data center strategy that goes into geographic areas, or a “geo.” Within each geo we have at this point one or more regions, where geo is a kind of a geopolitical regulatory compliance (area) or boundary.
In the US, we have 5 regions today. In Western Europe, we have 2 regions. In Asia, we have two regions. In Japan, we have two regions. In China we have two…

Jeff: When you’re classifying regions does that also align with a data center (in each)?

Mark: No, not necessarily. There can be multiple data centers in a region. We don’t expose them at this point.

Jeff: One thing I also noticed about the announcement yesterday was that there weren’t a whole of on-premise announcements. I’ve heard rumbles from a people that Barcelona [TechEd Europe 2014 in Barcelona, slated for October 2014] may have some interesting news. I’ve talked to some of the attendees and some of our readers too that have said “There really is nothing here [at TechEd 2014] for on-prem.”

Mark: Let me answer that a little bit by talking about some more of the things you were asking about. That was very interesting in yesterdays’ announcements. Because I think when people are saying there’s nothing on-prem, they’re really saying nothing that is just exclusively non-cloud related.
Besides the ExpressRoute and the hybrid network connectivity, we have things that are aimed [partially at on-prem] like Azure Site Recovery. That’s clearly targeted at on-prem. That is saying that you a have an on-prem deployment of something and you want to fail it over to Azure. There is a cloud connection there, but it’s one that’s forward looking.
In terms of people that have got on-prem deployments…the idea is I’ve got data center infrastructure that I already purchased or leased. I need to make use of that. I should make use of that so that I’m not just throwing money away, so I’ll deploy my applications in that. To have that failover site, it’s not prudent at this point to go buy another, lease a new bunch of servers, or co-lo, or build something out. Instead, for that occasional rare scenario of when I do need to fail over to someplace else, I’ll go to the cloud. That way I’m only paying for the cloud resources when I actually do the fail over.

Jeff: So a better way to phrase [the announcements from the TechEd 2014 keynote] would be to say that the days of [IT resources being exclusively] on-prem are pretty much over, with the idea that you can expand your resources into the cloud as needed. It sounds like all of the things announced yesterday go a step further down that path….

Mark: Actually related to that, you’ll see some things that look like they are aimed at the cloud but they’re really aimed at consistency even with on-prem scenarios.
For example: Azure Files allows you to write an application that takes advantage of file sharing and file shares to distribute data and store data among different servers. Take that from on-prem and move it into the cloud a lot more easily or vice-versa. That’s part of the consistency play, and that’s consistency by taking an existing on-prem programming model and putting it up in the cloud. We’re also be going the other way which you haven’t seen much of yet — but you’ll see more of — which is to say here’s the new way to write a cloud app and that’ll work on-prem. The windows Azure appliances the first steps so Windows Azure Pack (WAP). But in WAP you get the same management and deployment experience for websites as well as service bus as well as virtual machine creation. We want to take that further and further so that it’s not just management of virtual machines but management of applications that consist of virtual machines and other resources. You probably saw the resource group templates that we announced at build and that’ll be going down into WAP, and those templates will expand to include virtual machines and PaaS applications as well.

Jeff: Great. I’m not personally as familiar with Systems Center, but I was told that Azure Site Recovery requires System Center Virtual Machine Manager to enable…

Mark: …Yeah, I’m sure it does require System Center Virtual Machine Manager because that’s what knows about the topology of virtual machine apps across servers.

Jeff: So [System Center Virtual Machine Manager] is a requirement for Azure Site Recovery, for a good reason. Do you have any concrete numbers you can share on the IT pro side, what you’re saying in terms of [Azure] adoption, and what areas in the market are you seeing the most adoption? Is it with large, midsize, or small [companies]? 

Mark: Sure, I think the latest is [around] 8,000 customers a week.

Jeff: When you say customers a week, that’s…

Mark: That’s all sizes.

Jeff: So that’s someone who goes in and creates an Azure account and starts using [Azure services]…

Mark: Correct.