Microsoft recently held an event arranged by its Azure cloud computing division. In its continuing efforts to ensure the world fully understands that Microsoft is a strong proponent of open source, Azure OpenDev was all about celebrating the Azure cloud, and its openness. The event came around the same time I attended a dinner alongside Corey Sanders, Microsoft’s head of product for Azure compute. At the dinner, Sanders responded to a question about Microsoft and Open Source by saying, in a somewhat tongue-in-cheek way that:

Microsoft doesn’t support lockin by tech, it supports lockin by love

The cynic in me commented that the comment was a slightly nauseating one, but anyone who has watched Microsoft over the past few years will fully appreciate just how much the company has changed – at every turn Microsoft genuinely wants to support a more open technology ecosystem. The dyed-in-the-wool open source folks might find it hard to give up their love of hating on Microsoft, but the facts speak for themselves.

Anyway, at the OpenDev event, a session was held in which Pivotal’s Joshua McKenty, the Global Head of Ecosystem Engineering and MasterCard’s Rick Clark, SVP of Cloud Services discussed how MasterCard has revolutionized their software capabilities with help from both Pivotal and Microsoft. At the event, in a moment that Microsoft’s marketing team must have been ecstatic with, Clark suggested that MasterCard chose Azure was because “it’s the cloud for grown-ups.” Hyperbole aside, it was interesting to see the reason for MasterCard’s decision, and the experience it has seen through leveraging products from both Pivotal and Microsoft.

In response to the simple question as to why MasterCard chose Cloud Foundry, Clark suggested that the main reason is the abstraction layer provided by the platform, which provides breathing room to increase knowledge of staff to use the technology, then they have time to move down the stack. As he put it:

You have to start with something you can actually do.. a lot of people build their own platform never having done anything in the cloud before. We didn’t start that way.

Interestingly Clark sees the Cloud Foundry/Microsoft combination as a good way of entering into the cloud, de-risking the move and helping staff grow accustomed to a new way of working.

This is our first foray into cloud, [and we are a] big company. We needed the support, they’ve done a lot of hand-holding. We are new to cloud and we want to go with someone who has done this many times.

In terms of the build versus buy decisions, Clark spoke of the general principle that he holds when making these sort of determinations:

Developers are precious resources, every line of code should benefit customers and stakeholders. If you go back to that it makes decisions easier. [We ask ourselves] “should we?”, before “can we?” Even if you can CAN, doesn’t mean you should – there is a lot of false attribution error in developers’ mind…we imagine writing flawless code that’s better than anyone else. There’s a lot of accidental hubris in buy vs. build.

In response to questions about MasterCard’s choice of cloud platforms, Clark vacillated suggesting that they may, or may not, go all in on a single cloud vendor. He recognized that for Netflix, total reliance on Amazon Web Services works and that, fundamentally, any public cloud provider’s resiliency is better than yours’ is now. So while in theory an organization could simply pick a single vendor and go all-in on that vendor, Clark reminded listeners that not all cloud platforms are the same. There is a tension between the ease gained from using a single provider’s services and the greater flexibility that multi-cloud can bring.

In response to the perennial questions around developer autonomy versus central control, Clark was emphatic. Letting developers use whatever they want it in imaginable:

if everyone does what they want, and someone gets hit by a bus, you’re screwed. You need some governance

Finally, Clark talked about Open Source generally, Cloud Foundry in particular, and MasterCard’s thoughts around the use of open source.

Microsoft joining the Cloud Foundry Foundation sends a strong signal to us because we consider both Microsoft and Cloud Foundry to be important partners going forward. That was a big part of our decision to go with Cloud Foundry. It gives us confidence and security. Within an open source initiative, the fact that we can collaborate and participate in the roadmap is important. Before the days of OpenStack, there were cloud projects that did not allow you to contribute patches. If I can’t influence the direction, it’s just like closed source. We use open when it’s best, and not open when it’s best.

MyPOV

Pragmatic answers from a technology leader who has to balance many things – speed, security, a competitive environment and lots of regulation. Refreshingly honest and candid, and seemingly an exemplar of doing things quickly in a sector notoriously bad at doing just that.

Ben Kepes

Ben Kepes is a technology evangelist, an investor, a commentator and a business adviser. Ben covers the convergence of technology, mobile, ubiquity and agility, all enabled by the Cloud. His areas of interest extend to enterprise software, software integration, financial/accounting software, platforms and infrastructure as well as articulating technology simply for everyday users.

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