June 17, 2020
Welcome to Protocol Cloud, your comprehensive roundup of everything you need to know about the week in cloud and enterprise software. This week: How Microsoft scrambled to fix its COVID cloud capacity crunch, devs are trying to improve the diversity of their lexicon, and ThousandEyes CEO Mohit Lad talks about overlooked cloud dependencies.
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What would you do if demand for several of your cloud services doubled overnight?
That sounds like an interesting hypothetical question for a planning session. Or a Google interview question. But it's what happened to Microsoft in March, as the pandemic took hold of Europe and the U.S. after devastating China earlier in the year.
Some of the details are fascinating. In a video, Microsoft Azure CTO Mark Russinovich explained how the company moved traffic around the globe and rewrote code to tweak the way some of its applications consume computing resources, all in just a few weeks.
Microsoft also made a number of changes to its networking strategy, as people left their office parks, with local-area networks and better internet connections, and started working from home, putting a strain on wider-area networks.
It also relied on the tried-and-true method of building capacity: buying all the servers it could get its hands on.
The experience validated a few modern application design philosophies. Microsoft now plans to shift Teams from virtual machines to containers, for instance, and said it found it easier to quickly scale and adjust because several Azure applications were designed around microservices.
Still, it's worth noting that Microsoft was the lone company among the Big Three cloud providers to endure this type of crunch during the first half of the year, and that it was already struggling with Azure capacity long before most people had heard of COVID-19.
Protocol's Transformation of Work Summit
How can tech help identify and match in-demand skills with job opportunity? Speakers include Future of Work Caucus co-chairs Representative Lisa Blunt Rochester (D-DE), Representative Bryan Steil (R-WI), CEO of Jobs for the Future Maria Flynn, CEO of Burning Glass Technologies Matthew Sigelman, CEO of Colorado State University Global Dr. Becky Takeda-Tinker and Chief People Officer of Aon Lisa Stevens. Presented by Workday.
Open for business: MongoDB CEO Dev Ittycheria helped kick off years of hand-wringing about the future of open-source software when he changed the licensing policies around his company's open-source database in 2018. Surging sales of MongoDB Atlas, a commercial managed version of that database, suggest the strategy is paying off.
New normal: Microsoft has thousands of engineers, designers, and software developers that can help it react to an event like the pandemic, but what is a local brewery supposed to do? Protocol's Mike Murphy examined how small businesses are trying to use tech to stay afloat.
Privacy, interrupted: The downside of all this work-from-home tech is that your employer is now collecting more data about your work and personal habits than ever before. Issie Lapowsky spoke with several privacy experts who are concerned that this intrusion won't end with the pandemic.
What was your first tech job?
After completing my Ph.D. in computer science from UCLA, I got my first tech job in 2008 at a network performance startup in Santa Clara called Packet Design. The recession quickly caught up and I was laid off just two months in. It turned out to be a great thing as it forced me to think about what I really wanted to do and I ended up focusing on starting ThousandEyes.
What's the best piece of advice you could give to someone starting their first tech job?
Pick an area that you are passionate about and then find a company that speaks to you and whose mission you can get behind, rather than taking the highest paying job. Learn about what people in other departments do and how everything comes together.
Mac or PC?
I used to favor Linux but nowadays you will typically find me on a Mac since I can still use the terminal to do the things that I was used to on Linux, while still being able to benefit from the overall Mac OS experience. PCs have come a long way, though, and there are some very cool laptops that make me consider switching every now and then.
What was the biggest reason for the success of cloud computing over the past decade?
Ultimately I think the reason cloud has been so successful is that it allows for a focus on core competencies. If you are building a messaging app, you don't have to spend months building a data center, or if you are a startup focusing on acquiring customers, you don't have to spend days or weeks setting up [customer relationship management] — all you need is a browser.
What will be the biggest challenge for cloud computing over the coming decade?
In one of our first offices in San Francisco, where the lights would automatically turn off at 7 p.m. to conserve electricity, we automated the procedure using a script and Twilio to automatically dial a number and enter a code to turn them back on. Then one day the lights went off and we found out that our script was fine, but that Twilio was impacted by an Amazon outage on the East Coast. Our lights in our own office were out because of an outage on the other side of the country. The lesson learned? That the biggest challenge in cloud computing is the exponential amount of increased dependencies between different parties to and from the cloud, a lot of which people don't understand. That means more things will break in ways that are difficult to expect and, when they do, it will create massive disruptions similar to the impact felt every time Amazon suffers an outage.
Thanks for reading — see you next week.