As government CIOs mull their prospects in the cloud, Microsoft is trying to shed its image of a proprietary, license-driven software behemoth.
For the last several years, Redmond has been talking up its efforts to develop cloud services and applications and expand its developer ecosystem, and now, the company is positioning its technology as a hub that can bind together and support disparate systems, applications, operating systems and cloud environments.
Susie Adams, CTO of Microsoft's federal business, talks of "our general philosophy to become more open," and to support "mixed IT in a heterogeneous world."
"To do that we need to be extremely open," Adams said in a recent interview.
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Adams recalls the appearance of CEO Satya Nadella last year at an event where he displayed a slide proclaiming Microsoft's love for Linux, a symbolic move that Adams says indicates a fundamental shift within a company that has come to understand the importance and possibilities of working within an ecosystem that allows customers more freedom and flexibility than Microsoft has historically been known for.
Microsoft shopping Open Cloud platform in public sector
Microsoft is now shopping around its Cloud for Government offering, touting the security and compliance features of the system, as well as support for a variety of open source development models and mobile and productivity tools.
"I think a lot of folks in the federal audience are starting to realize that this isn't the Microsoft of 10 years ago, and that our mission has fundamentally changed," Adams says. "We are actually going back to our roots as a software company, it's just the way software is being delivered, the way people consume it, that's changed."
In the government space in particular, Microsoft sees an appetite for a cloud platform that doesn't amount to a complete gut job of an agency's existing technology apparatus. Federal CIOs have been tasked with developing strategies to bring their organizations into the cloud, but have been doing so under limited resources, often with deeply rooted legacy systems, and lingering concerns about security, privacy and control over data.
To that last point, Microsoft notes the assurance the company provides its government customers that data stored in its cloud will be stored within the United States and managed by U.S. citizens.
"At the end of the day data location and data access really matter in the cloud," Adams says. "And I'm not sure government or frankly industry really understood that."
"What we learned is that data sovereignty really matters," she says.
The vision of mixed IT can include applications from different vendors, a blend of legacy and modern systems and cloud architectures that run the gamut from private to public with hybrid in between. The company touts its efforts to support various development communities through moves like the partnership with Docker to bring that community onto Windows Server and integrating the language R into the Azure cloud.
"We want to be able to deliver open and flexible, agile support for any developer in whatever the language du jour is," Adams says.
She also says that Microsoft is moving away from the large, years-in-the-making release cycles, such as the delivery of a new operating system to market. She goes so far as to say that Windows 10 could be the "last operating system" the company produces.
"It's not meaning that it's the last innovation," she says. "We're just not going to do these gigantic releases."
"We might not call it Windows 11, but there will be a Windows 11 -- it will just be windows 10 with new innovations," she adds.