This past May, I attended a Microsoft Azure workshop in Redmond where Brad Anderson, Microsoft corporate vice president for the Cloud and Enterprise Division, along with a number of other presenters, demonstrated the latest features in Microsoft Azure. One of the recurring themes that stood out to me was the statement that Microsoft was now "cloud-first and mobile-first." While it may seem easy to dismiss these kinds of statements as mere marketing hype, several of the Microsoft presenters pointed out that the newest Microsoft developments and features are now first being developed for Microsoft's cloud-based Azure platform, then they are later rolled into the on-premise Windows Server and other Microsoft server products.  

It's clear that Microsoft has taken seriously the challenge to transform itself and that the new CEO, Satya Nadella, has truly moved the company into a new direction. This year's TechEd also echoed this theme as Microsoft focused most of their attention on the new Azure announcements. It's also clear that this new direction has several ramifications for businesses that have built their infrastructures on Microsoft technologies like Windows Server and SQL Server.

Rate of Change is Accelerating

One of the changes that's going to impact organizations the most is the fact that the rate of change is clearly accelerating. The days of waiting a couple of years between each major release are over. Microsoft is rolling out changes to Microsoft Azure at a blistering pace. For instance, Microsoft's recent release of Hyper-V Site Recovery Manager was limited in that Azure itself was only a witness and could not act as a site recovery target—a serious limitation considering Microsoft's efforts to get companies to adopt Azure. Similarly, Azure virtual machines (VMs) could not use anti-malware software.

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At this year's TechEd 2014 in Houston, Brad Anderson announced that both of these limitations have been lifted. These are certainly vital improvements to Microsoft Azure, but the point in this example is how quickly Microsoft is moving with Azure. What were significant limitations a few months ago are now already corrected. While this rate of change enables organization to be more agile—at the same time—it also demands that organizations be more agile in order to be able to adopt and incorporate a steady flow of technology changes.

Shift Away from Box Software to Cloud-Based Services

Another characteristic of the new Microsoft is that the shift away from box software to cloud-based services means that going forward, the cloud-based services are not only going to get the vast majority of new features first, but it also means that those cloud-based services will have the fullest feature set and that on-premise software will eventually have a subset of the features found in the cloud. The new Microsoft Azure pack is a great example. The Azure pack brings a simplified management experience to on-premise Windows Servers. This is great because it provides a common management experience for the Azure cloud and your on-premise infrastructure. However, the Azure management pack doesn't offer all of the features found in the Azure management portal.

It also seems that Microsoft is finally moving away from its Microsoft-centric view of the universe and is beginning to incorporate other technologies and platforms, as well.  For example, the old Microsoft restricted Office to only running on Windows platform using it as leverage to push Windows to more users. The new Microsoft is working to embrace other platforms and technologies as the new Office for iPad demonstrates. The new Office for iPad provide a first-class touch Office experience for iPad users.

Cloud and Mobile are Now the Priority—Not Windows

Instead of pushing users to Windows, the new Microsoft is encouraging users to adopt its cloud services like Office 365. It's sort of telling that the Office for iPad announcement was Nadella's first major announcement as Microsoft's new CEO. The cloud and mobile are now the priority—not Windows. Likewise, Azure now supports several Linux distributions running in its IaaS services—and this isn't just support for creating Linux VM—there are also several pre-defined Linux VM templates integrated into the Azure portal.  Similarly, Azure VMs offer support for other non-Microsoft technologies like Oracle databases and Java.

Cloud-first, Mobile-first

There's a new Microsoft that's not the same as the old Microsoft. Microsoft truly has embarked on a new "cloud-first, mobile-first" direction. Expect a more rapid rate of change—especially for Azure-based services—as well as a better hybrid experience that incorporates more mobile devices and other technologies.

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