Microsoft Azure CTO Mark Russinovich describes the company's attitude toward open source, edge computing, and blockchain in a brief but wide-ranging interview with Enterprise Cloud News.

Mitch Wagner, Executive Editor, Light Reading

January 4, 2018

5 Min Read
Microsoft Is a 'Deeply Open Source Company,' Says Azure CTO Russinovich

Get used to the idea of Microsoft embracing open source.

If you've been around the industry for a while, you remember when Microsoft Corp. (Nasdaq: MSFT)'s then CEO Steve Ballmer said open source is "cancer." That was in 2000. Fast-forward to today, and Microsoft is a "deeply open source company," says Microsoft Azure Chief Technology Officer Mark Russinovich. (See Microsoft Joins Linux Foundation, After Calling Linux a 'Cancer'.)

"We strongly believe in the philosophy of open source. It's a community," Russinovich told Enterprise Cloud News in a short but wide-ranging one-on-one interview that also covered Microsoft's views on edge cloud computing, blockchain and more. We spoke with Russinovich in November, just after his talk at the Structure conference in San Francisco, and got an update this week. (See Microsoft's Russinovich: Avoiding Cloud Lock-In Is Risky Too.)

Microsoft uses open source in its own products, and contributes code and resources back to the community. "If we're going to take from the community and build our solutions on it, we are going to contribute back anything we do with the technology," Russinovich says.

Microsoft endorses open source in several different ways, Russinovich says: Microsoft enables open source on the Azure cloud, ensuring open source software runs effectively through partnerships with Cloud Foundry, Red Hat Inc. (NYSE: RHT) and other open source companies and organizations. (See Microsoft Goes for Cloud Foundry Gold, Microsoft, Red Hat Expand Partnership to Include Containers and Microsoft Goes for Cloud Foundry Gold.)

Microsoft builds its technologies and services on open source, Russinovich says. Azure Data Lake Analytics is based on Apache Hadoop YARN, and Microsoft contributed code back to YARN. Microsoft released the .Net Core, Visual Studio Code and PowerShell to open source as well, Russinovich said. And Microsoft is a Platinum member of the Linux Foundation and the Cloud Native Computing Foundation (whose projects include Kubernetes) and a Gold member of Cloud Foundry. (See Kubernetes Advances Windows Support, Microsoft Launches Kubernetes as a Managed Service, Microsoft Doubles Down on Open Source, Analytics for Developers

Figure 1: Photo (C) Raimond Spekking / , via Wikimedia Commons Photo © Raimond Spekking / , via Wikimedia Commons

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Why the change in attitude? Customers demand it, Russinovich says. "A lot of our customers are building on open source," he says. "There's a lot of great innovation happening in open source, and we need to make that innovation possible."

Opportunity on the edge
Microsoft views edge computing as an opportunity for Azure. Businesses need to write applications that can move from the cloud to the edge and back, managed the same way using the same tools, no matter where they run.

Microsoft Azure Stack is important to that strategy, particularly on the factory floor, "a massive IoT scenario," Russinovich says. Azure Stack is an instance of the Azure cloud that runs on on-premises server. Azure Stack needs to operate autonomously, with or without a cloud connection, because cloud connectivity sometimes goes down but factories and other IoT deployments need to continue running, Russinovich says. (See Microsoft's Azure Stack Is Useful but Not for Everyone.)

While computing will move to the edge, there will also be even greater need for massive, centralized data centers provided by Azure, Russinovich says. "The centralized aspect of the cloud will continue to grow at an exponential rate," he says. "Edge as a platform will grow similarly. You can't have rich edge computing without a cloud behind it."

Blockchain everywhere
"We see blockchain applications in every single business that we look at, every single vertical," Russinovich says.

Microsoft is seeing companies look to private blockchain to connect and keep track of interaction within departments, providing an immutable, distributed ledger of transactions, Russinovich says.

Consortiums of businesses can use blockchain to track transactions between them, eliminating the middleman and reducing the risk of fraud, he says.

And "smart contracts" -- code that runs on top of the blockchain -- provides a foundation for distributed applications.

Microsoft is running multiple blockchains integrated with higher-level Azure services, including using cryptographic keys to authentication to the blockchain, integrated with Azure Key Vault and authenticated identity.

Microsoft contributed the Coco framework, a blockchain framework, to open source in August. (See Microsoft Serves Coco-Flavored Blockchain for Enterprise.)

Microsoft is partnering with industry on blockchain projects, including Maersk for maritime insurance in conjunction with Ernst & Young. Microsoft also has a project for digital identities in conjunction with Accenture. (See Microsoft, Accenture Building Blockchain Digital IDs for 1.1B People.)

Microsoft was a leading enterprise technology company in providing blockchain to business, second to IBM, according to a recent survey from Juniper Research. (See IBM, Microsoft Rank in Blockchain Survey.)

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About the Author(s)

Mitch Wagner

Executive Editor, Light Reading

San Diego-based Mitch Wagner is many things. As well as being "our guy" on the West Coast (of the US, not Scotland, or anywhere else with indifferent meteorological conditions), he's a husband (to his wife), dissatisfied Democrat, American (so he could be President some day), nonobservant Jew, and science fiction fan. Not necessarily in that order.

He's also one half of a special duo, along with Minnie, who is the co-habitor of the West Coast Bureau and Light Reading's primary chewer of sticks, though she is not the only one on the team who regularly munches on bark.

Wagner, whose previous positions include Editor-in-Chief at Internet Evolution and Executive Editor at InformationWeek, will be responsible for tracking and reporting on developments in Silicon Valley and other US West Coast hotspots of communications technology innovation.

Beats: Software-defined networking (SDN), network functions virtualization (NFV), IP networking, and colored foods (such as 'green rice').

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