Windows Azure SQL Database Marketplace
Olivier Mangelschots is Managing Director at Orbit One
Internet Solutions, a systems integrator based in Belgium that is deeply
involved in Microsoft technology.
interview we cover:
Robert Duffner: Could
you take a moment to introduce yourself and Orbit One?
I'm Managing Director of Orbit One Internet Solutions. We have been in business
since '95 here in a city called Gent, Belgium. Today, we have 18 people, and we
mainly focus on developing web portals. We use technology such as SharePoint,
Microsoft CRM, and Umbraco, which is an open source CMS based on ASP.NET.
We also try to help our customers realize the new world of
work, making use of technology such as Microsoft Lync to be able to work from
anywhere while staying in contact with their teams. We're really interested in
the cloud and looking forward to this change.
been involved in building customer solutions since well
before cloud computing. How have you seen the cloud impact the solution
that you're providing to your customers?
always tried to make solutions in such a way that the impact on the internal IT
structure for the customer is as low as possible. Even as far back as 2000, the
solutions that we've developed have mostly been hosted by us.
We try to minimize the need for customers to implement local
servers, so they can focus on making the best use of the solutions instead of
the technical infrastructure behind it.
Forum president Paul Simmonds says that new rules are needed for identity
in the cloud and that passwords are broken. Can you talk about the challenges
and solutions for identity management in the cloud? How is it different from
is one of the key elements to make the cloud successful, and I think we've come
a long way. Today, most cloud solutions are starting to incorporate identity
management the way it should be done, using federated identity and single sign-on.
In the past, an organization had to choose between doing everything on-premises
or moving everything to the cloud.
It was difficult to have part in the cloud and part on-premises,
because you had to manage users and synchronization separately. It was quite a
pain. But now, large and small companies can move to the cloud and have centralized
user management, so they are able to handle user services in a very transparent
It shouldn't matter for the users whether an application is hosted
on-premises or hosted in a cloud at Microsoft or hosted at a partner, so long
as everything is nicely integrated. Of course, the first thing the user notices
is the fact that he has to enter a username and password, so that should be
can choose between cloud, on-premises, and partner hosting. How do you explain
the differences between these options to the customers you work with?
Olivier: Cost is
obviously one of the factors to take into consideration. Most customers are
coming from an on-premises history, and by moving to cloud technologies such as
Windows Azure, Office 365, and CRM Online they can save a lot on costs. Of
course, one has to look at the complete picture: not only licensing, but also
factors such as human resources, hardware, and electricity.
In addition to saving on costs, they can make things happen more
quickly. If they want to deploy something new, they can do so in a matter of
hours in the cloud, where they would need days, weeks, or sometimes months for
an on-premises deployment.
Partner hosting is still very important, mainly because not
everything is possible in the public cloud. There are certain limitations with Azure
and Office 365, for example. The price is very affordable, but you get what's
in the box, and partners can offer customization.
In addition to offering more personalized solutions with
regard to technical features, partners can also provide customization in terms
of service-level agreements, security considerations, encryption, and those
sorts of things, which are very important for some organizations.
Robert: At EMC's
recent conference, CEO
Joe Tucci said that hybrid clouds are becoming the de facto standard. Can
you talk a little bit about hybrid solutions that may use a mix of options?
Olivier: As an
example, one of the things that is very easy to migrate to a public cloud is an
organization’s set of Exchange mailboxes with contacts, calendars, and so on. The
level of customization that users need is quite small, and most people are
happy with the product as it comes out of the box.
If you move the mailboxes to the cloud, users typically
don’t even notice. They just keep using Outlook and Outlook Web Access, synchronizing
their phones as they need to. Still, it saves a lot of costs, as well as
allowing many companies to have much larger mailboxes than they would otherwise
be able to.
This is one of the mixed situations we see, where companies are
moving part of their services to the cloud, such as Exchange mailboxes, while keeping,
for example, SharePoints sites internally because they need some custom modules
in there that are not available in the cloud.
Mixing and matching in that way can be a smart approach,
because it allows companies to save costs while also being more productive and
the recent Amazon outage where full service wasn't
restored for about four days, are you seeing customers question the
reliability of the cloud? What do you think is the lesson learned from that?
Olivier: Almost all
companies are a bit scared of moving their data away to some unknown location,
because they have less control over those systems. The event at Amazon was, of
course, very unfortunate. The cloud on a massive scale is still very new, and certain
technologies should really be considered to be in a beta phase.
I think we have to be realistic about the fact that in an
on-premises situation, uptime is not guaranteed at all. Many organizations have
far more than four days of outages a year because of human error.
Many companies are not ready today to move certain critical
applications to the cloud. I believe that, as the cloud grows bigger and more
mature, service-level agreements will be available from cloud systems that are
far more demanding than those that are possible from on-premises situations.
This is also where partner hosting can come into play. You
can combine certain things in the public cloud for very affordable mass-usage
scenarios while putting specific, mission-critical solutions at a partner that
will do a custom replicated solution.
In the long term, I believe that the public cloud will come
in several flavors, including an inexpensive mass market flavor and a more
enterprise-focused flavor with high levels of redundancy and availability,
which will cost more.
Moorman, the chief strategy officer at Rackspace, likened the Amazon
interruption to the computing equivalent of an airplane crash. It's a major
episode with widespread damage, but airline travel is still safer than traveling
in a car. He was using this as an analogy to cloud computing being safer than
running data centers by individual companies. Do you think that analogy holds
Olivier: I think it
does in certain scenarios, although not all. But I think you're absolutely
right that when an airplane crash occurs, it garners a lot of attention, even
though statistically, it is far safer than driving a car.
If a big cloud goes down, that’s a major news story, and everybody's
talking about it. But actually, this almost never happens, and a very large
scale public cloud can be much safer than environments run by individual
At the same time, there is always a balance between how much
you pay and what you get for it. I don't think it's possible to get the service
with the maximum possible guarantees for a very low fee. If you're willing to
pay more, you will get more possibilities.
Azure is a nice example, because you can choose what
geographical area your data and services will be running in. And you're completely
free, as a developer or as an architect, to create systems that are redundant
over several parts of the Azure cloud, which allows you to go further than
what's in the box.
aren't always starting from scratch, and sometimes they have something existing
that they want to move to the cloud. Can you talk a little bit about migration
to the cloud and things that customers might need to be aware of?
Olivier: This is a
major issue today. For certain services, migration to the cloud is more difficult
than it should be. The issue is going to be addressed step by step. First, of
course, you need to have the cloud. Then you can start building migration
tools. When I look, for example, at Microsoft Exchange, it's very easy and
there are lots of good tools to move from an on-premises or a partner-hosted
solution to the cloud.
SharePoint, for example,
or Dynamic CRM, is much harder to migrate. You need third-party tools, although
Microsoft is working on creating its own tools. There is still work to do
Azure, I think, is a completely different beast, and you can’t
just take an application and put it on Azure. To make it really take advantage
of the Azure opportunities and added value, you need to redesign the
application and make it Azure-aware. That can take quite some time to do, and
it's a long-term investment for product developers.
Robert: As more
people move to the cloud, there's the chance to integrate one cloud resource
with another. I know you've been thinking about the combination of Office 365
and Azure. Can you tell us your thoughts on that?
combination of Office 365/Dynamics CRM Online with Windows Azure is a very
interesting thing. For example, we have customers using CRM Online, which is
kind of out of the box, you get what's in there. We combine it for them with
custom Azure solutions to do things that are not foreseen in CRM.
To give you an example, there is a company called ClickDimensions that has an email
marketing plug-in for Microsoft CRM. You can send out mass e-mails to people
from CRM, and there is tracking functionality about who opens the e-mail and
who clicks on your website. You have a whole history about your prospects and
Actually, all this is running in the Azure cloud. It's all
custom-developed, and it's always up, piping this information through to your
CRM system. This is a nice combination of using out-of-the-box standards,
shared hosting products such as Office 365, and CRM Online, combined with
custom-developed solutions running in Azure. You get the best of both worlds.
Microsoft, we see cloud as a critical back-end for mobile applications. You
probably saw the recent
announcement around our Toolkits for Devices that includes support for the iOS,
Android, and Windows Phone 7. Do you have any thoughts around the combination
of cloud and mobile?
Olivier: I don't
really have special thoughts, although cloud and mobile, of course, work very
well together. On the other hand, I think that any application is nice to have
in the cloud, and the nice thing about the combination of cloud and mobile is
making sure it's available from anywhere, since mobile users can be coming from
anywhere in the world.
It's very difficult to know when you roll out a mobile
application how much people are going to use it, and hosting these kind of
things on the cloud makes very much sense, because you can cope with the peaks,
you can cope with identity issues, and you have a nice kind of platform to
Robert: Was there
anything else that you wanted to talk about or any other subject you want to
Olivier: Today, I
see Azure as a tool kit, or a large system to build new applications and solutions,
so the group using it is mostly developers and other technical people. It would
be nice to see a layer between Azure and other scenarios, where Azure is the
engine and Microsoft or other partners create front ends for it.
To give you an example, if I want to host simple websites
running a CMS solution, I can choose any of a number of partners that have management
modules that allow me to easily configure the website, hit start, and it's
running. It would be great to see an integration between for example Microsoft WebMatrix and Azure,
allowing less technical people to get their website running in Azure in a few
These extra layers on top of Azure are a big thing for
partner opportunities, but I also think that Microsoft should also participate to
speed up things. I see Azure as the first big infrastructure step, we are just
at the beginning!
One thing that developers might be afraid of is that if
today you build an application specially for Azure, you're going to use the
Azure tables, the Azure way of doing message queuing, and so on, making it very
hard to move away from Azure.
Of course, today, Azure is only available through Microsoft,
but I think it makes sense in the future to have the Azure platform also available
in custom flavors through service providers that are competing with one another
on innovation and pricing.
Of course, Microsoft probably doesn't want to give
everything away, but there are a lot of partner models. It will be interesting
to see how this will evolve in the future.
good. Thanks, Olivier.