Mark Russinovich: Windows Azure, Cloud Operating Systems and Platform as a Service

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Mark Russinovich is a Technical Fellow working on the Windows Azure team. His focus is on solving hard problems related to the Fabric Controller, which is in some sense the Windows Azure operating system kernel - it provides services and management infrastructure for the applications that run on Windows Azure.

Before joining the Windows Azure team, Mark worked in the Windows kernel engineering group and, as you probably know, Mark is one of the founders of SysInternals and is the co-author of several extremely useful tools for analyzing, measuring, monitoring and really understanding the things that happen at the lowest levels of the system like memory management, process management, threading, etc... Mark also is the co-author of the best Windows Internals books on the market. Finally, Mark is one of the highest rated speakers at Microsoft technical conferences (you must watch his PDC10 sessions!). Will he still work on Windows Internals series of books now that he is no longer on the Windows team? Is he still deeply engaged in the goings on in Windows kernel world? Is he writing SysInternals tools for Windows Azure? What is the Fabric Controller, exactly? How does it work? What's underneath the Fabric Controller?

Windows Azure is a cloud operating system. What does that mean? What are the Windows-analogous components running inside Windows Azure? What's Mark up to?  How does he like the new gig? Why is platform as a service (PaaS) so important? What is PaaS, really? And more.

As usual, this is a turn-the-camera-on-and-converse interview that happened just as you see and hear it. We therefore move from topic to topic in a natural and somewhat unstructured way and yours truly probably had too much coffee before heading to Mark's office :)

It's always a real pleasure to get to chat with Mark. He has the uncanny ability to simplify complexity so that we can understand the meaning and reasoning behind the technology at hand without possesssing expert level knowledge or being as bright as Mark. He's one of our best and brightest technical minds and Windows Azure is lucky to have him solving hard problems and pushing the Windows Azure kernel(Fabric Controller) envelope.

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    The Discussion

    • User profile image
      Interframe

      Mark Russinovich!? Interview? Awwweeeeeesssssoooommmmeeeee! Mark should become the next chief software architect of Microsoft.

    • User profile image
      Charles

      Happy Thanksgiving, Niners! After you fill your stomachs, feed your minds. I agree, Interframe, Mark is awesome. The future is bright for PaaS through Windows Azure! Smiley

      C

    • User profile image
      exoteric

      You know how to throw an oddball at an interviewee Charles. It can bring up interesting answers and lead to interesting tangents at times. Kind of funny to see too Big Smile

    • User profile image
      Warren S.

      Agree with "Interframe"
      Mark's got my vote for next chief software architect - brilliant mind and a great communicator.

    • User profile image
      CKurt

      For anybody who want a nice background of Mark and what he's doing watch: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=o1DskPD-Ngc&feature=player_embedded

      This interview was taken by Microsoft Student Partners at TechEd 2010. Myself, I was behind the camera Tongue Out

       

    • User profile image
      Charles

      , CKurt wrote

      For anybody who want a nice background of Mark and what he's doing watch: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=o1DskPD-Ngc&feature=player_embedded

      This interview was taken by Microsoft Student Partners at TechEd 2010. Myself, I was behind the camera Tongue Out

       

      Nice job! I like the human focus. Very Channel 9 Smiley Keep it up.

      C

    • User profile image
      Charles

      , exoteric wrote

      You know how to throw an oddball at an interviewee Charles. It can bring up interesting answers and lead to interesting tangents at times. Kind of funny to see too Big Smile

      Smiley Real time unrehearsed and unscripted conversation (basic Channel 9) can lead to interesting topical tangents.Mark's a great sport and can easily navigate my oddball or nonsequitor questions. Makes conversing fun.

      C

       

    • User profile image
      CKurt

      @Charles: Thanks for the compliments Charles! We did a lot more interviews at TechEd with Brian Keller, Caroline Phillips, Gill Cleeren, Giorgio Sardo, Jacqueline Russell, Jonathan Carter, Katrien De Graeve, Mark Russinovich, Michelle Fleming and Rob Miles. You can see them all at www.ckurt.net and at the www.msstudentlounge.com

    • User profile image
      Spongman

      just wondering if there are any plans to provide some lower cost 'shared-hosting'-type environment in Azure where many ASP.NET applications are configured to run on a single virtual instance with costs being proportional to the amount of actual CPU usage, not necessarily wall-clock uptime.

    • User profile image
      Heavens​Revenge

      In my opinion, glorifying Azure to be a whole "Operating System for the Could" is almost a stretch. Azure to me is equivalent to a LAMP server stack backed with a partially specialised load-balancer + memcached. 
      And primarily the fabric controller is nothing but a _slightly_ more advanced memcached service in contrast to a "kernel". To me a more true statement would to call Reddog OS the "kernel" of Azure.

      It seems to me as if Azure is being regarded more of an actual OS instead of the server stack and services for its distributed and scalable nature. 
      Mark, I expect that once you decipher the memcahed functionality of the fabric controller, you'll miss the real fun kernel stuff in due time.
      On a different note, I was saddened that I was busy for most of PDC's live viewability to force me to miss out on the more in-depth questions I would have asked live instead of far past it's date.

      The only real thing I could ever see myself paying for Azure as an end-user, would be if Microsoft had some sort of way to PXE/network boot a VM of Windows 7 running up on the "cloud" in which I could do all my computing needs via remote-desktop through an XBox360 client-to-AzureVM connection or a specialized Microsoft thin-client hardware monitor & input device package instead of a whole physical rig at my feet.

      I always enjoy hearing Mark speak, and I hope this all/some of this comment made sense to all/some of you Smiley

      Bye for now!

    • User profile image
      SteveRichter

      very alarming to hear Mark talk about the advantage of Azure being the complexity of admining windows server. As in, it is in the interest of Microsoft to keep Windows Server complex because that enables the subscription based Azure to grow its revenue base.

    • User profile image
      Charles

      @SteveRichter: "As in, it is in the interest of Microsoft to keep Windows Server complex because that enables the subscription based Azure to grow its revenue base."

      That's your misunderstanding, not Mark's... Listen to what he said again. Smiley
      C

    • User profile image
      SteveRichter

      , Charles wrote

      @SteveRichter: "As in, it is in the interest of Microsoft to keep Windows Server complex because that enables the subscription based Azure to grow its revenue base."

      That's your misunderstanding, not Mark's... Listen to what he said again. Smiley
      C

      Charles, listen from the 26:00 minute point forward. He says it takes from 3 to 6 months to setup, config and  deploy an app on windows server. With Azure that deployment takes minutes.  What I like about Microsoft is the focus on programming and customization. From way back, using com to automate office.  The .NET framework, all the great work that Anders is doing. I don't get that from Mark's work. There is no source code in his internals books. Process explorer, etc are not open source, there are no automation interfaces to those tools.  I am not complaining. Not even asserting that what I am writing is correct. Just my POV and what I understand to be true based on incomplete knowledge. Microsoft is the one that elevated Mark to such a high rank. Azure must be very important to them to take the premier expert away from his area of expertise. Esp, since that area needs a lot of improvement in order for apps to be able to be deployed on windows server in a shorter amount of time.

       

       

    • User profile image
      aL_

      it kinda bugs me that i cant just take an arbitrary number of computers that i have lying around and make them into an azure cloud.. The whole reason for wanting to do that is using my own hardware that might have some special acceleration card in it.

      sure getting the appliance might be useful in some cases, but far more useful would be to leverage the hardware that we already have.

    • User profile image
      Charles

      @SteveRichter:

      "Charles, listen from the 26:00 minute point forward. He says it takes from 3 to 6 months to setup, config and  deploy an app on windows server. With Azure that deployment takes minutes."

      No, that's not what he said... He wasn't talking about deploying applications (like a web site...). He was talking about setting up, configuring, managing, clustering a group of machines running Windows Server and SQL, IIS, etc, etc... Your POV is stretching his words a bit too far Smiley

      C

    • User profile image
      Charles

      @aL_: It should be clear that Windows Azure is not a general purpose OS at the level you are talking about. It's not designed to be like Windows Server, which is a general purpose OS that runs on (abstracts) a large number of hardware configurations...

      C

    • User profile image
      Charles

      @Corey Sanders: There's an unformatting bug with anonymous comments... Create an account and try again Smiley

      C

    • User profile image
      CoreySanders

      @Charles:Thanks, Charles. Trying again... 

       

    • User profile image
      CoreySanders

      @HeavensRevenge:

      Thanks for the comment, HeavensRevenge.

      When we think of the Windows Azure platform as an “OS of the cloud,” we think of both the services available for applications to use and the type of workloads that can be exercised.

      The services that are offered are quite similar to typical operating system services, simply applied at scale to a multi-machine, multi-tenant, and distributed system. This includes:

      • Deployment services, allowing efficient and rapid allocation of both large and small applications throughout the available and shared resource pool;
      • Update services, allowing application components and the platform itself to be updated without interruption to the overall execution of the application;
      • Managed health, allowing automatic recovery from application and hardware failure, without interruption to the overall execution of the application;
      • Security services, giving certificate management and endpoint control;
      • Debugging services, allowing remote access to individual machines and remote reimage and reboot capabilities;
      • Intra-application communication, allowing secure and managed communication across different parts of the application.


      In addition to these services offered, we also think about the diverse workloads that can be executed, similar to a general purpose operating system. As you indicate, the Windows Azure platform has capabilities to support web-based applications, notably in the “Web Role,” allowing support comparable to the LAMP stack (with PHP, Java, and .NET support).

      However, when you include the capabilities of the “Worker Role” and the “VM Role,” the possible workloads extend beyond just a web-based application. With these additional role types, the workload support includes scale-out high performance computing applications, data processing services, shared file servers, complicated stateful service applications, and all the combinations therein.

      Given the services supplied to applications and the diversity of application types that can be executed, we think “Operating System of the Cloud” is a very exciting and very real description for the Windows Azure platform.

      -Corey Sanders, Windows Azure Fabric Controller

    • User profile image
      aL_

      @Charles:

      i know that.. what i want to do is leverage the hardware that we already have to turn it into an abstacted azure cloud. i'd basically like to build my own appliance with my own hardware. (or even better, run some sort of azure node software on computers running a another client/server os)

      i know thats not possible with azure today, but that is something they should enable as it would make azure far more useful imo

       

    • User profile image
      cyberhawk

      No offense, but that interviewer needed to do some homework before asking questions. The questions were lame but some how Mark tries to make the answers interesting. 

    • User profile image
      Heavens​Revenge

      @CoreySanders: Azure is indeed all you say, but the way in which it's marketed and advertised seems to be the root of the many misconceptions and assumptions people have about it. I'm sure that as part of the Fabric Controller team, you have been asked questions which are great dreams and goals for people to reach via the technology they create, but I can imagine how grinded you feel for explaining an equivalent situation in which makes their vision feasable.  As engineers, the "sky" is the limit and only limited by our imagination and budget, but the expectations of Azure are usually a little excessive for many people, and overestimate its ability until learning of Azure's domain(strengths & weaknesses).

      @aL_: I think Azure COULD probably be retro-fitted to a general hardware configuration if and only if they restore the origional kernel of Server 2008 R2 + Azure extensions instead of using their extremely stripped down kernel which they have engineered specifically for the hardware in their datacenters for apparent optimisation. If the kernel wasnt so specialized, and they didnt design pieces of the intergral components as being so specialised to their specific server configs with assumptions in hardware ability offering the same functionality, they shouldn't be limited by their datacenter configs. But maybe by vendor lock-in decision, they will never actually offer a more maleable Azure for corperate installation, which is sad but not impossible.

    • User profile image
      dunnry

      @HeavensRevenge: I think you might have confused AppFabric with the Fabric Controller.  AppFabric is a brand that includes a Caching service (see Cloud Cover Show Ep 32).  The Fabric Controller is an integral part of Windows Azure that does all the things that Corey mentioned.  Two completely different things, but confusingly named.

      @aL_:  If you happened to have a bunch of extra blade servers, redundant network addressable power supplies, hardware load balancers, top of rack switches, etc., you probably could install and use Windows Azure.  However, you can't throw a bunch of random hardware together and achieve the reliability, scalability, and availability that is a core tenet of Windows Azure.  It is not the same thing.  The reason we have the Windows Azure Appliance is because that is the only hardware configuration that we can have that will achieve the same goals that are so important in the public cloud (or hosted/private as the case may be).

       

    • User profile image
      Charles

      , cyberhawk wrote

      No offense, but that interviewer needed to do some homework before asking questions. The questions were lame but some how Mark tries to make the answers interesting. 

      No offense taken, though I have to disagree with you Smiley I thought the conversation was quite good (random, sure, but that was by design). If you want the details inside of Fabric Controller than watch Mark's PDC10 session on the topic (as specified in the post description...). The purpose of the conversation was to explore the OS analogy and PaaS. I believe we accomplished that, but I respect and appreciate your candor. Thanks.

      C

    • User profile image
      Fleet Command

      Awsome! I can't wait to watch!

      Though, I'm curious... Why is the medium-quality WMV version is 55 MB bigger than the high-quality WMV version? I thought the only motivation to download a lower quality video of our beloved celebrity's interview is the size...

    • User profile image
      Damon

      yes . why????????
      Why is the medium-quality WMV version is 55 MB bigger than the high-quality WMV version?
       
      All video for Mark-R and Sysinternals tools in PDC9-10 is very good.
      :)
       

    • User profile image
      Charles

      , Fleet Command wrote

      Awsome! I can't wait to watch!

      Though, I'm curious... Why is the medium-quality WMV version is 55 MB bigger than the high-quality WMV version? I thought the only motivation to download a lower quality video of our beloved celebrity's interview is the size...

      Don't know what happened. You can always just download the lower quality MP4...

      C

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