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The Cloud and Me (chapter 1)

By Omar Reid, Azure Technical Architect, CSI

Working with cloud technologies quite literally fell onto my lap as a lowly infrastructure engineer.

Running around like a deranged person, trying to keep this network switch from going down, that virtual machine within the Hyper-V cluster from crashing and corrupting its virtual disk… again! Looking at SCCM to make sure updates were being packaged for deployment. Since patch night as ever was looming, knowing full well something important would break or simply not come back up.

Backups?! Don’t even get me started on backups!

I couldn’t tell you how many petabytes of LTO tapes I have had to change. Tapes I had to ensure I labelled before I put down. Calling the storage company to schedule the tapes going off for our ISO compliance and if the mood took me, order some more to make sure we never ran out of those fateful tapes.

Far from the glamour, I thought it would be when I worked on the service desk. Seeing the ‘gods among men’ that were infrastructure engineers running down the corridor almost knocking over the person whose turn it was to make the teas and forage for biscuits in the cupboards. Bursting into a server room, locking themselves in there. Only coming back out to sip a cup of tea, regaling the actions they just did behind closed doors to us ‘commoners’ on the service desk. Heading straight back into the server room to oust whatever fire was still blazing.

At the time that’s just how I worked, how I speculated most of the industry worked. This was the industry sector I chose to master; this was the job I was paid to do.

Until that lovely Friday afternoon…

My manager (who was Head of IT at the time) walked up to me in the cold crevice that resembled something more akin to the IT crowd’s backroom than the glamourous polished data centres we are accustomed to seeing in today’s publications. With curiosity and glee (as he took joy handing me a challenge and observing me squirm at the magnitude of the task), but knowing full well I wouldn’t back down from a challenge – he handed me a white paper and simply said: “figure out if we can use it”.

This white paper was about Microsoft Azure. Little did I know just how much it would change and shape my career, much less my life.

Azure in its infancy was a platform I labelled as ‘emotional’.

It must have had emotions. I would log in one day and everything was fine, all the services globally had green ticks. Only for something to upset Azure and an outage would unveil itself. This was an Azure that most new to the platform today wouldn’t recognise, a far cry from what Azure is now.

Are you a Windows house or a Linux house?

Deciding which of the platforms all those years ago to use was decided by using one criterion. This simple yet complex question majority of the time dictated which platform you chose. Azure or AWS.

Azure and AWS were platforms almost worlds apart but not estranged to each other. In my immaturity back then I would refer to them as Mum and Dad, living in separate houses who only played nice for the children. Each had their focusses; Azure was keen on developing its public offering in and around the PaaS and SaaS arena, while AWS focused on developing its IaaS offering. This is evident in today’s cloud platform offerings more so than ever.

Let me illustrate a simple example of this. DNS, a staple of any engineer’s repertoire. A technology that some will argue enabled and shaped the internet. AWS released PaaS route53 in December of 2010. Azure released PaaS DNS zones in January of 2019 as a preview if my dwindling memory hasn’t failed me in my time of need. If you remember my earlier point about what each platform’s focuses were, this wouldn’t come as a surprise.

AWS created a platform that allowed you to deploy a data centre purely as an IaaS and PaaS hybrid infrastructure natively. Azure created a marketplace ecosystem that allowed vendors to virtualise their products and be implemented on the platform as either PaaS, SaaS or IaaS. Azure simply didn’t have much interest in redoing what they asked their vendors to do through the marketplace.

This has changed drastically. Both platforms which now include Google Cloud Platform (GCP), are doing one and the same thing. Vying for their share of what as you can imagine is a very big, tasty and profitable apple pie.

While on my mission to conquer the cloud, I noticed the narrative “Azure is rubbish, AWS is better” and vice versa…

Much to my annoyance, I may add. This highlighted to me the little understanding some of these individuals had about these platforms. To my horror and shock, most of these individuals were my superiors! At the same time, I started to notice a developing trend.

Throughout my career, I have worked with huge household conglomerates. A beverage manufacturer or two. Government departments. Charities of varying sizes. Even a huge manufacturer of Scandinavian inspired furniture. As a young boy growing up in the UK, I used to cherish the thought of spending the good part of a Sunday perusing the many different aisles, with the hopes my mother would break the time old tradition of saying “no we have food at home” and allowing her puppy-dog eyed son to grace his uneducated palate with the mass-produced Swedish meatballs! Working with these companies throughout the years I saw a major shift in and around how these platforms were being used.

Companies wanted to be cloud-agnostic.

Companies no longer were hoodwinked into the notion that if you pick one platform that was that, it was final, set in stone. Heads of IT no longer felt like they had to offer up their firstborn as a sacrifice to move to another platform.

Better yet, companies were starting to take different consumable services from each platform and using them as part of the stack that comprised whatever it was their yearning hearts desired.


~ to be continued… ~   click to read chapter 2