Deconstructing Cloud-First

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Within various governance presentations for SharePoint audiences, I have been including my own slides and those from various Microsoft leadership outlining some of the changes coming about due to Microsoft’s “Cloud First” strategy. As I describe it to people, this is the biggest change to the way Microsoft does business since moving from DOS into Windows, altering what they develop, and how they develop products and services. There’s been a lot of talk about the “One Microsoft” initiative and how teams are being moved, consolidated, and restructured – but Microsoft has always been heavy-handed on the reorgs, and honestly, I don’t view these more recent announcements as a snapshot in time, but a view into the new world of work inside of the company.

In his Redmond Magazine article entitled Why the Microsoft ‘cloud First’ Model Changes Everything, Don Jones (@concentrateddon), principal technologist at Concentrated Technology, outlines some of the significant changes underway, and shares his perspective on how this impacts the partner channel. I’ve added some of my own thoughts on each, but his article is still worth a read:

  • Building for the cloud first, and then bundling those features for on prem releases
    We’ve been hearing Microsoft people talk about this for quite some time, but what has confused most is the on prem roadmap. Building for the cloud does not mean, necessarily, that on prem goes away. The SharePoint product team, for example, recently reassured the community that there will be future on prem releases as long as customers wants to purchase server products. While Microsoft’s primary focus will be in delivering the best experience for cloud customers, the code base for cloud is the same as for on prem, and those features which can be used in an offline architecture will be bundled at regular intervals (cumulative updates, service packs, major releases) similar to what we’ve seen in the past. 
  • Evergreen updates, with more frequent releases, smaller changes
    For those interested in the cloud, this means very frequent feature releases. Yammer has been know to release changes a couple times a week, and utilizes telemetry to identify which features people are using (and not using) and to focus development efforts on the areas of the platform that will have the largest impact. The Yammer model may not fit every product or team, but every organization across the company is moving in this direction.
  • Focusing more on SMB, chasing the long-tail
    Ask most SharePoint leadership if they are focusing on small to medium businesses, and they will tell you no……but as Jones points out, most current cloud services fit the SMB model, and the limitations of customizing and integrating with them will keep many enterprises from moving entirely into the cloud – though most are looking at ways to reduce CAPEX expenditures by moving some workloads out of locally-managed servers. But feature limitations are just a near-term problem for enterprises, as the platform will mature and Microsoft will, over time, figure out a way to provide parity with the on prem experience for these requirements-heavy customers. There’s also the need for Microsoft to continue to grow its business, to develop new customers, and to provide a return on investment for its investors. The SMB market is largely untapped (15% penetration, per Gartner earlier this year) and is the primary growth opportunity for Microsoft’s collaboration and productivity solutions, allowing it to maintain its strong Office, Exchange, and SharePoint growth numbers. 
  • Manageability of their products and services
    Having spent some time in MMS/BPOS (pre-cursor to Office365), I know something of the management overheard of these systems. Another aspect of developing for the cloud first is that it helps reduce the operational costs of Microsoft’s own internal systems, as well as the overhead of managing its cloud services. It is a fact that Microsoft looks at its own administrative pains, and prioritizes some of their product strategies around easing these pains – for their customers, and for themselves. Microsoft “dogfoods” their software, and so they know first-hand what it takes to manage their software at an enterprise level, and are constantly looking at ways they can improve.

One thing that Jones doesn’t mention, but that I talk about in my sessions, is that Microsoft is being fairly candid about the fact that they simply do not yet know all of the impacts of these changes, or how it may affect partners and customers in the short-term. In a discussion this past summer with Microsoft COO Kevin Turner, he shared that the company is erring on the side of “moving fast" rather than clear communication of future roadmap. It was refreshing to hear a senior Microsoft leader talk about the many unknowns of their path forward, but that they know what they are doing is directionally-correct.

Two things you can expect from Microsoft in the future: change, and forward movement.

Christian Buckley

Christian is a Microsoft Regional Director and Office Servers and Services MVP, the Founder & CEO of CollabTalk LLC, an independent research and technical marketing services firm based in Salt Lake City, Utah, and CMO of revealit.io, a blockchain-based video technology company.