Oh, the sweet irony. Seven years ago, Microsoft’s then CEO, Steve Ballmer (he of the “iPhone, it’s just a toy” and “I LOVE LOVE LOVE this company infamy) ousted Bob Muglia, then president of the company’s server and tools business. While execs come and go, Ballmer’s move was particularly public – especially given that Muglia was, by all accounts, doing a good job. Scuttlebutt in the industry suggested that Muglia and Ballmer argued over Microsoft’s strategy with regards to cloud computing – something that Ballmer was slow to understand the impacts of.

So Muglia moved on, first to Juniper Networks for a couple of years and then on to Snowflake Computing, a company looking to reinvent data warehousing for the cloudy era. For his part, Ballmer also moved on from Microsoft, in a replacement that was widely applauded by the technology industry, he was replaced by current CEO Satya Nadella, someone who deeply understands the importance of this new paradigm, and was realistic about Microsoft’s early missteps.

Fast forward to today and the Microsoft we have now is in no way like the Microsoft of only a few years ago, Nadella has turned the ship around and cloud is very much at the forefront of Redmond’s attention. And so, it is in equal parts appropriate and ironic to hear today that Snowflake, Muglia’s cloudy data warehouse, is now available on Microsoft Azure.

What is a cloudy data warehouse?

In the old days, data warehouses, much like the physical warehouses from which the name came, were big dusty places where data went to die. Large organizations, fearful that they’d be losing some monetizable value if they threw out historical data, would cram everything in a data warehouse, generally in an expensive on-premises data center. The approach mimics the cliched view of millions and millions of paper files being trundled into subterranean physical archives, never to be seen from again.

But the notion of a data warehouse, a place to store data in advance of it being analyzed for valuable insights, is a valid one. Take that notion and apply the pixie dust of cloud to it and you have a cheaper, more efficient, more scalable, more flexible offering. The idea combines the power of data warehousing, the flexibility of big data platforms and the elasticity of the cloud all at a fraction of the cost of building a traditional dedicated physical data warehouse.

There’s money in warehousin’

Partly due to the credibility that Muglia brings, and partly due to the fact that IDC predicts the cloud data warehousing space to be a $15 billion market, Snowflake has had a stratospheric rise. Valued at $1.5 billion, Snowflake raised over a quarter of a billion dollars earlier this year to fund its growth. That takes total funding to just shy of half a billion dollars in the few short years since the company was founded.

And revenue seems to be growing nicely as well – Capital One is just one high-profile reference customer that has signed up – a crowning glory on a reported 300 percent customer growth in the twelve months to January.

Movin’ on up – Azure joins AWS

Snowflake had, until today, chosen AWS as its public cloud deployment partner of choice. Today, however, they’re announcing the preview availability of Snowflake on top of Microsoft Azure. A reference customer for Azure is global measurement company Nielsen who have built their next-generation data warehouse on top of Snowflake and Azure.

For its particular use case, Nielsen operates on large volumes of global, retail, point-of-sale data to produce analytics that enable FMCG and retail companies to gain insights about their markets Said Nielsen CTO, Varadarajan:

Snowflake and Azure deliver the scale and performance we need to enable modern data analytics so we can deliver our customers the product and consumer insights they need. We look forward to what’s on the horizon with Azure and Snowflake.

The Azure offering

This is relatively big news, and comes hot on the heels of the most recent Gartner Magic Quadrant for public cloud in which Microsoft started to pull away from the chasers and make things look like a Microsoft/Amazon 1/2. The fact is that Snowflake’s enterprise customers are increasingly looking for both choice, and a compelling multi-cloud strategy – after AWS, Microsoft is the best pick in that regards. As Muglia points out:

Organizations continue to move their data analytics to the cloud at an increasing pace, with the cloud data warehouse at the core of their strategy. Customer demand for an Azure-based data warehouse is also on the rise. We’re working with Microsoft to provide the performance, concurrency and flexibility that Azure customers require from a modern, cloud-built data warehouse.

For their part, Microsoft is talking up the importance of this announcement. Corey Sanders, resident nice guy and Corporate Vice President for Azure Compute at Microsoft has this to say:

Migration of an enterprise data warehouse into the cloud is a key requirement for Azure customers. We look forward to partnering with Snowflake to enable these data warehouse migrations for enterprise customers moving onto Microsoft Azure. I am excited to have Snowflake available on the Azure platform.


Makes sense. Azure is growing like weeds and is increasingly becoming an important choice to offer enterprise organizations. While the history between Muglia and Microsoft is largely irrelevant, it is somewhat ironic to see and yet another firm reminder about how off the money Steve Ballmer really was when he was steering the ship.

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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