Microsoft Corporate VP of
Azure Julia White
In the cloud service market, Microsoft finds itself
firmly in second place.
But in trying to catch up with market leader Amazon, the
tech giant argues it has a distinct advantage — its
long history in the business software game and its
long-established relationships with companies of all sizes.
Microsoft knows how to meet companies’ needs, it argues.
That’s not just an idle boast, if my conversations with Geico and
Dun & Bradstreet are any indication. Both companies recently
turned to Microsoft’s Azure cloud service. And in both cases, the
companies saw distinct benefits to using Azure over rival
“You can tell Microsoft is hungry,” said Pat McDevitt, the chief
technology officer of Dun & Bradstreet, which recently
started experimenting with Azure. “They are doing exactly what
they need to do.”
Azure is in the spotlight this week thanks to Ignite, Microsoft’s
annual developer conference. The company typically uses Ignite to
promote its massive cloud computing platform. At this year’s
Microsoft announced several tools to make it easier for large
companies in particular to use Azure.
‘Essentially evacuating the data center’
Fikri Larguet, Director of
One big company that’s already embraced Azure is Geico. The
insurance giant began shifting over to Microsoft’s cloud
service about three years ago, said Fikri Larguet, the
company’s director of information technology. Geico’s rationale:
Owning and operating data centers and servers is both expensive
and outside its core area of expertise.
The company, which has more than 38,000 employees, is
“essentially evacuating the data center,” Larguet
said. Geico, a wholly-owned subsidiary of Berkshire
Hathaway, has been moving a little bit at a time. But over 50% of
the company’s core business services are already in the cloud and
its goal is to be “full cloud” by 2020, he said.
Larguet said his team has a mandate to “get out of the data
center business as quickly as possible.”
Geico bet on Azure because Microsoft had already built into its
cloud service the ability to interact with lots of different
applications. That made it a smooth process for Geico
to bring over its existing software, Larguet said. Similar
support for newer tools and technologies also made it easier
for Geico to add on things like software containers, a trendy new
Silicon Valley technology for building large-scale apps.
The biggest challenge Geico’s faced hasn’t been technical,
Larguet said. As the team tries to adjust to a post-data center
era, Larguet is trying to teach the team to “fail fast” and
be unafraid of trying new things. For him, this is a chance for a
fresh start in the software organization.
“We don’t want to carry over our bad habits,” he said.
‘We don’t need to be bleeding edge’
Dun & Bradstreet CTO
Dun & Bradstreet, a firm that’s provided data and analytics
to businesses since 1841, is taking its cloud migration a little
The firm “doesn’t need to be a pioneer, doesn’t need to be
bleeding edge,” McDevitt, its CTO, said. Dun & Bradstreet
has been around the better part of two centuries; it can
afford to experiment with the cloud rather than rushing to push
everything over to it right away. And the firm has been
experimenting; it moved over some key applications to Amazon
Web Services a few years ago.
About three months ago, though, the firm started
experimenting with Azure. What appealed to Dun & Bradstreet
were Microsoft’s tools for managing data. Those tools make it
easy for companies to build cloud-based applications that
read and write from their existing databases. With them, the
firm could more quickly build mobile apps and other new-wave
McDevitt asked one of the firm’s development teams in Austin
to test Azure by using it to build a new mobile app for Dun &
Bradstreet’s clients. Although these developers’ past experience
was primarily with Amazon’s cloud service, they found it so easy
to work with Azure that they finished ahead of schedule.
And Azure offered the firm an another benefit.
Because Microsoft has embraced technology like Docker
software containers and the Linux operating system, Azure
integrated better with Dun & Bradstreet’s existing
systems than McDevitt had first thought. Originally, the
firm was going to use Azure just for new apps. Now the firm
is considering using it for older apps also, he said.
Microsoft worked really hard to win his business, McDevitt
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