Microsoft queues up DocumentDB for broad availability

Microsoft continues to fill in the check boxes for its Azure cloud. Example: Azure DocumentDB, Microsoft’s take on NoSQL databases a la Couch or MongoDB, will be generally available April 8, the company said Thursday.

The beauty of these document databases is they can ingest JavaScript Object Notation (JSON) formatted information as is — no need for the mapping process that had to occur to pump them into relational SQL databases. [company]Amazon[/company] Web Services added JSON support to its DynamoDB database last last year.

[company]Microsoft[/company] announced DocumentDB in August.

Microsoft, which is trying to kit out Azure as a comfy home to a wide variety of workloads, supports a variety of homegrown and third-party databases including MongoDB and Microsoft SQL Azure and Oracle.

Microsoft also said Azure Search, which works across more than 50 languages, is now available. This “search-as-a-service” targets developers who want to add full-text search into their applications.

The company also unveiled a new premium encoder for Azure Media Services.

For a primer on DocumentDB check out the video below.

[protected-iframe id=”4448a4bcd0bd8c2c93244aa57b76ff78-14960843-26974994″ info=”//” width=”960″ height=”540″ frameborder=”0″]

Microsoft faces specter of shelfware in the cloud era

The notion that pay-as-you-go cloud computing will eliminate shelfware — paid-for but unused computing resources — has always been suspect. Last year I wrote that the proliferation of unused compute instances resulting in zombie resources that are allegedly active but not doing productive work, could be a big problem for cloud vendors as customers smarten up.

Another type of shelfware is a cloud service that is purchased but never actually deployed, and that’s something [company]Microsoft[/company] is facing with Azure.

Business Insider report this week noted that Microsoft sales teams are under pressure not just to sell Azure — usually in conjunction with a broader enterprise license — but to make sure customers actually use it. To be fair, Microsoft has been aware of this issue for some time and last summer ended an Azure discount program that exacerbated the shelfware problem.

A long-time Microsoft partner told me at the time that the company was pushing its sales force hard “to drive utilization, not just revenue.”

The problem was that once Microsoft field sales sold a pre-paid Azure contract, there was zero incentive for them to make sure the customer put those resources to work. And that’s a problem as companies start scrutinizing what they have rights to and what they’ve actually deployed. Eventually the bean counters will start wondering about the value of those license agreements.

Another long-time Microsoft partner told me this week that he knows of lots of customers who have tens of thousands of dollars worth of Azure licenses who are not running Azure at all. And that brings us back to the BI report, which shows that little progress has been made in the past six months. According to BI:

Microsoft has been structuring deals that give away access to Azure, its cloud competitor to [company]Amazon[/company] Web Services, for little to no extra cost to some customers who have no plans to use it. It has been counting some revenue from those deals for its cloud, but if they don’t actually use the cloud, that revenue won’t continue.

A Microsoft spokesman said the company sees  “strong usage of Microsoft Cloud services by businesses of all sizes” and that more than 60 percent of all Azure companies use at least one premium service, say, media streaming. And, he noted that more than 80 percent of Office 365 enterprise customers run two workloads or more.

I’m not sure that really resolves the question but in any case, shelfware is an issue for all cloud providers as customers get more savvy about what they’re actually paying for and using. Or not using.

Last week, a Wall Street Journal report on the “hidden waste and expense of cloud computing”  (paywall) pointed out that C-level execs are increasingly worried about idle cloud resources and are looking to what cloud pioneers like [company]Netflix[/company] have done to optimize their cloud computing resources. Netflix, for example, has technology that shuts off resources automatically when they’re not needed.

Others turn to third-party tools from Cloudyn, Cloudability and Krystallize Technologies to minimize waste.

As one commenter to the Journal story pointed out, the secret to minimizing waste is to keep tabs on what you spin up.  “The minute you turn on a process it’s going to cost money,” he noted. Other AWS shops have said that Amazon’s own Trusted Advisor and Cost Explorer dashboards have gotten much better over time, eliminating much of the need to keep spreadsheets to track usage.

This story was updated at 10:30 a.m. PST with additional Microsoft partner comment and again at 12:30 p.m. PST with Microsoft comment.

New Relic drafts former Oracle exec to lead biz dev

New Relic has named John Gray, a former long-time channel exec for Oracle, as its new SVP of business development.

Gray, who was most recently at LivePerson, brings long experience dealing with channel partners in the hotly contested enterprise software arena. New Relic, already a hit in startups, really wants to sell more of its application performance management and analytics to these big-fish companies.

Gray will report to Hilarie Koplow-McAdams, another [company]Oracle[/company] alum who joined as New Relic’s chief revenue officer in late 2013 when the company was prepping its IPO.

All those years at Oracle should come in handy for [company]New Relic[/company]. Last fall the company launched an enterprise partner program and named several top [company]Microsoft[/company] Azure and [company]Amazon[/company] Web Services partners as inaugural members.

Working with enterprise-focused consultants, systems integrators and VARs is right in Gray’s wheelhouse. He will direct the company’s partner strategy and build its network of alliances and channel partners, the company said.


Sooooo, what’s new with HP’s cloud strategy?

Look! Hewlett-Packard is doing something with Eucalyptus after all, at least according to a new web page touting HP Helion Eucalyptus, the “Open. Agile. Secure AWS-compatible private cloud.”

HP bought Eucalyptus in September, put that company’s CEO, Marten Mickos, in charge of the overall HP cloud business and things went pretty quiet. Until this week, when I reported that Mickos was ceding his leadership role and the aforementioned page appeared.

An [company]HP[/company] spokesman confirmed that it is a new page, and is “fully in line” with HP’s hybrid cloud push and previous pledge to support AWS customers. Most of the page’s links route back to the original Eucalyptus web site.

I still have so many questions.  Will HP’s OpenStack-based Helion private cloud also offer AWS API compatibility?  HP pulled planned support for those APIs from its public cloud two years ago. Will it reverse that course?

And most intriguingly, will HP — which is a long-time and sometimes irritated Microsoft partner — decide to de-emphasize its own public cloud aspirations and instead throw in more fully with [company]Microsoft[/company] Azure? Hey, anything is possible.


Kubernetes comes to OpenStack this time thanks to Mirantis

For businesses wanting to run the Kubernetes cluster management framework for containers on OpenStack clouds, Google and Mirantis have teamed up to make that happen more easily.

The OpenStack Murano application catalog technology promises to ease deployment of Kubernetes clusters on OpenStack and then deploy Docker containers on those clusters.

Murano provides what Mirantis CEO Adrian Ionel (pictured above) described as a “seamless point-and-click experience” not only for deploying workloads to OpenStack, but also making sure they get there with associated automation, provisioning and security intact. “In this case we use it to automate the provisioning and life cycle management of containers,” he said.

Murano, he added, makes it easier for people to build application environments that can be container-only, or mix containers with bare metal and virtual machines in one big happy package. (I’m paraphrasing here.)

This is not the industry’s first attempt to bring Kubernetes technology, open sourced by Google last year, over to OpenStack. In August, [company] Hewlett-Packard[/company] announced its own Kubernetes setup utility for HP’s OpenStack-based Helion cloud, but I haven’t heard much about it since.

There is no exclusivity in this latest news. The work Mirantis and [company]Google[/company] have done here will, in theory, help customers deploy Kubernetes on any OpenStack distribution. Mirantis and Google will demonstrate the technology Thursday in San Francisco.

And in the grand scheme of things, nearly every cloud or wanna-be cloud vendor worth its salt (including SaltStack) Microsoft, IBM, Red Hat and others, have pledged or contributed actual support for Kubernetes.

This latest news is another indication that Google is indeed serious about providing cloud capabilities to business customers, many of whom still view public clouds like Google Cloud Platform with suspicion. OpenStack is the cloud framework usually mentioned when a company decides to deploy a private cloud that they deem more suited for mission-critical workloads.

“From a Google perspective, containerization is important and running container clusters is a great way to enable developers to be productive,” said Kit Merker, the Google product manager focusing on Google Container Engine and Kubernetes.

“We know that enterprises will take time to transition to cloud. Kubernetes is a way to optimize infrastructure so it can run workloads in private or public cloud or bare metal.”

kubernetes openstackSo this is about workload portability but not really hybrid cloud per se. “This means you can build an application that uses containers and then move it to a different environment. That is what Kubernetes is all about,” he said. That is not the same thing as seamlessly integrating public and private clouds into a hybrid scenario.

[company]Amazon[/company] Web Services still leads the world in public cloud but Google and [company]Microsoft[/company] are giving it a run for its money. Microsoft Azure, because of its business roots, is seen as an attractive public cloud for that company’s myriad business customers so both Google and AWS have to show that they “get” CIO concerns about cloud deployment and provide enterprise class features and functions.

This step by Google, along with other moves announced in the fall and more recent news that it’s bringing four Google services to VMware’s  vCloud Air, are meant to reassure the C-suite set that Google means business.

Note: This story was updated at 11:11 a.m. PST with a more complete list of Kubernetes contributors.


Microsoft embraces Python, Linux in new big data tools

Continuing its quest to make Microsoft Azure comfy for the non-Windows world, Microsoft just launched a preview of its Hadoop-based cloud tool (HDInsight) that runs on Linux. It’s also making its Azure ML machine learning service widely available now with new support for Python as well as the already-planned support for the popular R language. Microsoft bought Revolution Analytics, the company behind a commercial version of R, last month.

Azure HDInsight is thus “Microsoft’s first fully Linux-based service for big data,” Joseph Sirosh, Microsoft’s corporate VP of machine learning, said in an interview. Microsoft says 20 percent of all VMs running on Azure run Linux.

Asked if he sees any open-source oriented developers still wary of using Microsoft’s cloud, Sirosh said the perception of Microsoft as a Windows-only company is fading. “There is a new breed of developers [who want] to leverage features … whether they are Linux- or Windows-based is becoming less important,” he said. With cloud services, “you really don’t have to know a lot about deep inner details to use these services.”

Azure ML’s embrace of Python also shows just how popular that language has become and that [company]Microsoft[/company] Azure is building on its promise of language agnosticism. “Python has become the number one language of choice for developers. We can now claim to be the most comprehensive analytics service — no other product lets you integrate SQL, R and Python into one project,” Sirosh said.

Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella.

Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella

Microsoft is also making Storm, the open-source stream analytics tool, available for HDInsight with support for both .NET and Java. The company already offered Azure Stream Analytics and will continue to sell, support and upgrade that as well. Storm is another option, Sirosh said.

In the massive public cloud infrastructure arena, Microsoft must contend with [company]Amazon[/company] Web Services and [company]Google[/company] Cloud Platform, both of which are targeting developers with fancy analytics and other services. I agree with Sirosh that Microsoft has done a good job of embracing open-source frameworks and languages in Azure. But the perception, especially among young startups, of Microsoft as a Windows-and-Office-first monolith dies hard.

I’ll be sure to ask Sirosh more about how Microsoft Azure can win over startups as well as big business accounts when we’re on stage next month at Structure Data.

This story was updated at 10:05 a.m. PST to reflect Microsoft’s assertion that 20 percent of all VMs on Azure run Linux

Hooray! Amazon will start breaking out AWS numbers

For cloud watchers,  the real news out of Amazon’s fourth-quarter earnings call is that the company will finally break out Amazon Web Services numbers from the rest of its gigantic retail business starting in the first quarter.

To date, the AWS numbers have been buried in the poetically named “North America Net Sales (Other)” category along with a mish mash of other items. Of course that hot little tidbit prompted immediate speculation that Amazon is now on the road to spinning out AWS entirely.

The glomming of AWS in with branded credit card and other activities made sizing the cloud business a bit of a challenge for anyone outside of Amazon corporate, so any increased clarity is most welcome.

But for now we’re still stuck in the old model, so here are the AWS  results (such as they are) in a nutshell: cloud services continued to sell briskly in the fourth quarter according to the company’s earnings report. For that period, net sales in the closely-watched category grew 43 percent year over year, to $1.67 billion from $1.17 billion from the year ago period.

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Gauging the true size of the [company]Amazon[/company] cloud business is an in-exact art to say the least, but we do what we can. And these numbers represent top line net sales, so profitability is (and has been) subject to debate.



It was a big quarter in terms of new products — most of which were unveiled at AWS Re:Invent in November including Lambda, an event-driven compute service: a service catalog; a container service, yaddayaddayadda.

Growth would seem to indicate that AWS is forging right along even as competitors — [company]Google[/company] and [company]Microsoft[/company] — bulk up their competitive clouds. Or maybe the thirst for public cloud is bottomless and there truly is room for everyone.

On the call, CFO Thomas Szkutak, said Amazon has invested heavily both in personnel and infrastructure to build that business and that will continue. For example, from the company’s statement, it spent $1.44 billion on property, equipment, software and website development for the quarter. That total was $4.89 billion for the full year.

In a note released Thursday night, Technology Business Research Analyst Jillian Mirandi estimated that Amazon’s mostly  IaaS business generated nearly $4.8 billion in revenue in 2014, up a whopping 50 percent from 2013. Meanwhile, Google and Microsoft, by her tally, generated, $177 million and $188 million respectively, in the IaaS segment.

Amazon’s huge lead, she noted, is due to its  “six-year head start in the market, and is challenged as these vendors also continue to compete on price, removing price cuts as a differentiator for AWS.”

Here’s more on the non-AWS bits of Amazon earnings.

This story updated repeatedly during the earnings call Thursday.

Datadog fetches $31M to beef up sales and engineering

Datadog, which promises to let companies see how well (or badly) their various cloud deployments are performing, now has $31 million in fresh Series C funding, bringing its total to about $53 million.

The company, with offices in New York and Boston, will use the new funding to hire more people in sales and R&D, CEO Olivier Pomel said in an interview. This round was led by existing investor Index Ventures, with participation from RTP Ventures, OpenView Venture Partners, Amplify Partners and others.

Datadog CEO Olivier Pomel

Datadog CEO Olivier Pomel

“Our ecosystem is blowing up, in a good way,” Pomel said. “Two years ago it was all [company]Amazon[/company]. Now there’s also [company]Microsoft[/company] Azure and [company]Google[/company] on the public cloud side. They’re building fast and are serious. On the private side, back then there was OpenStack on the private side, and now there’s an explosion of container technology driven by Docker and now CoreOS … Every single big software company has a container play and we have to support all that.”

The company, which claims [company]Netflix[/company], Spotify, [company]EA[/company], and, Mercadolibre as customers, has 75 employees now, up from 25 last year, and plans to double or triple headcount next year.

Datadog faces competitors including Boundary, Server Density and Stackdriver (which was purchased by [company]Google[/company] last year). Pomel said many customers use home-grown options.

Microsoft’s big task: Replicating Windows-Office success in cloud

Microsoft turned in pretty good second quarter results on Monday, but its stock still took a hit after hours and into Tuesday. At time of posting, Microsoft shares were off 8.6 percent to $42.97 from Monday’s close of $47.01.

Why? After the earnings call, [company]Microsoft[/company] watchers seemed to remember that the company cash cows remain good old-fashioned Office and Windows, sales of which aren’t setting the world on fire. Sales in the company’s Commercial Division, which includes those products, missed expectations, logging “just” $10.68 billion for the quarter compared to the $10.94 billion that FactSet analysts had expected, according to Marketwatch.

Another data point: Revenue for Windows OEM versions of the operating system — which get pre-loaded on new PCs  — fell 13 percent year over year. And Windows Volume licensing revenue grew just 3 percent, as CRN pointed out.

Monday’s call was characterized as the end of the honeymoon for Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella, who took the reins in February, 2014. I don’t know about that, but there does seem to be a growing realization that replicating the wild success Microsoft had selling tons of copies of Office and Windows — either through volume licenses to big companies or at retail — will be a tough task in the cloud era where Microsoft was not first out of the gate.

On Monday’s earnings call,  Nadella acknowledged that Windows suffered a tough year-to-year comparison noting that: “As expected, the one-time benefit of Windows XP end-of-life PC refresh cycle has tailed off.” He was referring to the fact that Microsoft stopped supporting the popular XP operating system in  April 2014, and that publicized deadline probably pulled many PC purchases forward from this year.

Microsoft CFO Amy Hood cited that “comparability issue” as a headwind that will “show itself most directly as weakness in commercial licensing and most specifically as weakness in Office transactional licensing.” Transactional business refers to sales of full-licensed software to run on a PC or server, as opposed to the more incremental subscription Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) model.

Fading glory?

So Office and Windows sales took a hit because they did well last year, but there’s more to this concern than the lingering impact of Windows XP’s demise.

At the heart of Microsoft’s problem is that, for many companies, it is just not the brand it once was. Whereas people of my era grew up relying on Microsoft Office applications, startups and young employees are less likely to use them. Google Apps is more likely their productivity suite. So [company]Google[/company] is strong in small companies, but it has also been aggressive courting enterprise accounts.

That means that, in this SaaS era, Microsoft faces a formidable name-brand competitor that can compete with it on price. The days of Microsoft being able to demand a premium price are over.

The company is doing lots of smart things to try to remedy the attention deficit among young companies. Its decision to go “freemium ” with PowerBI is smart, but then again the prospect of free software won’t endear it to Wall Street analysts, a constituency that was thrilled to see Nadella replace Steve Ballmer at CEO.

Sure, Microsoft can claim progress in cloud with Azure infrastructure as a service — but that comes from a small base of users compared to the [company]Amazon[/company] Web Services juggernaut. So when it says its cloud business hit a $5 billion run rate in the second quarter it’s worth noting, but with a grain of salt. Cloud numbers from legacy vendors are fluffy at best as they typically include a lot of legacy stuff and services thrown in. Last week, [company]IBM[/company] claimed its cloud business hit its $7 billion target, a claim that met much skepticism.

Microsoft will have to keep investing in key new technologies if it’s going to build relevance for modern companies. The goal is to make sure that PowerBI or some other Microsoft product becomes as essential to a big class of users as Excel and Word did 20 to 30 years ago. And Nadella has opened up the check book — Microsoft has almost $89 billion in cash after all. Last week, Microsoft acquired Revolution Analytics, the company that backs the R language used by many data scientists.

Big data and machine learning will be key areas — which you can hear more about from Joseph Sirosh, corporate VP for machine learning who will speak at Structure Data in New York City in March.

MSFT Price Chart

MSFT Price data by YCharts

In AWS cloud contracts (as in life), read before signing

Lawyers say never to sign (or click on) anything without reading it first, but that rule typically goes out the window when it comes to complex-yet-boring end user licensing agreements (EULAs) and other software licenses.

As John Oliver said in his epic net neutrality screed: “If you want to do something evil, put it inside something boring. Apple could put the entire text of Mein Kampf inside the iTunes user agreement and you’d just go: Agree. Agree. Agree.”

That read-before-clicking mantra holds true for license agreements from cloud providers as well. For example, I would bet that when many startups — which often don’t have legal departments — sign on for Amazon Web Services, they don’t check out all the verbiage fully. And they should.

In particular, there is a provision in the AWS customer agreement that they really should scrutinize. The contract’s Section 8.5 on license restrictions includes the usual restrictions that customers or their end users cannot modify, tamper with, reverse-engineer or create derivative works of the AWS service offerings, or use them in a way to avoid paying for them. Nothing too unusual there.

But here is where things get interesting (emphasis mine):

All licenses granted to you in this Agreement are conditional on your continued compliance this Agreement, and will immediately and automatically terminate if you do not comply with any term or condition of this Agreement. During and after the Term, you will not assert, nor will you authorize, assist, or encourage any third party to assert, against us or any of our affiliates, customers, vendors, business partners, or licensors, any patent infringement or other intellectual property infringement claim regarding any Service Offerings you have used.

Why so strict?

Basically, AWS is invoking its rights not to be sued for patent infringement by its customers not only for the time you’re using its service, but going forward — in theory — in perpetuity.

I talked to three attorneys specializing in intellectual property issues on this point. None of them work for [company]Amazon[/company] or its direct cloud competitors [company]Microsoft[/company] or Google, but none of them would speak for attribution. They all noted that it is unusual to enforce terms beyond the life of the customer relationship.

First, neither the Microsoft Azure license nor Google Cloud contracts include similar limitations, the lawyers said. The overall “broad covenant not to sue” is not unusual in and of itself, said a Seattle-based attorney, but the extensions of limitations beyond the term of contract was striking.

“So once a user agrees to these terms, they can never assert a patent or other IP infringement claim against Amazon or any other customer or user of AWS, against an AWS Service offering,” the attorney said via email. “This is even true if Amazon first sues the user for patent infringement on anything else.” Hmmm.

That, he said is an “onerous provision” out of step with the usual current terms of use, although such wording was more common in software licenses ten years ago. The AWS contract has not changed in nine years.

A Boston-based IP attorney concurred that this provision was not something he’s seen in other software contracts, but added that he wouldn’t be surprised if other web service vendors start including similar provisions.

“This strikes me as quite a bit more vendor-protective than the norm,” he said via email. “Is it overreaching? Probably, but I’d guess that few AWS customers have significant patents that they would intend to use in AWS-related suits against Amazon.”

A lawyer for a tech company that sometimes competes with AWS (and with Google and Microsoft) had a different take: In his view, startups typically don’t have much other than IP and so must protect it at all costs. “What AWS is saying is that not only can you not assert against us, but you can’t assert against our suppliers or partners. That is a big deal.”

Clause 8.5 is spelled out pretty clearly, and it’s been discussed publicly before: John Delaney, a partner at New York law firm Morrison Foerster, warned prospective AWS customers three years ago to look before they leap when it comes to signing AWS licenses. Still, none of the AWS customers I talked to recently for this story were aware of this provision.

Word to the wise: If you’re unsure, get a lawyer

Amazon Web Services declined to comment on its licensing terms for this story. But the company often negotiates enterprise agreements with large customers — the sorts of customers that do have general counsels and legal departments. I would be willing to bet that those customers insist that term be waived. And if a startup happens to have big-name VC backing, that might help finalize the deal.

Lydia Leong, [company]Gartner[/company] cloud analyst, said the notions expressed in the AWS contract are, for the most part, fairly common and unobjectionable, although she recommended that customers and their lawyers work out the specific language of their deal, which Amazon is usually willing to do as long “as the common-sense intent is preserved.”

AWS would probably always insist that the user cannot reverse-engineer stuff, not pay for service, and the like; and none of that should surprise anyone. However, the no-patent-infringement-claims clause, she added, is more questionable. “Lawyers, especially those for technology-industry customers, may want to closely negotiate that language,” she said via email.

What’s interesting here is that, in theory, this 8.5 provision could allow Amazon to defend itself against customers (or former customers) if it ends up using their IP down the road. All the more reason to get the lawyers involved up front: after all, the patent system is not exactly the most well-run government program.