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Microsoft Charging Forward with Azure Active Directory Capabilities

Microsoft Charging Forward with Azure Active Directory Capabilities

The software giant continues to focus on building out its Active Directory IDaaS offering

Microsoft's Active Directory team continues to enhance its massive Azure Active Directory service at a breakneck pace, underscoring their commitment to the Azure cloud side of the ubiquitous Active Directory Domain Services (aka Windows Server Active Directory).

I had an inkling of what was to come over a year ago. I was talking with a senior Azure AD PM at the 2013 Cloud Identity Summit, reflecting on my April article about Azure AD reaching GA in which I warned that the basic capabilities of this new Azure service were just a harbinger of things to come. He told me, "Just you wait."

One year later in July, I gave a presentation at the 2014 conference about this much matured service, entitled "Azure AD: The Future Of Microsoft Identity". In it I presented several points:

  • Azure is Microsoft's future. Anyone that's paid any attention to Microsoft's announcements in the last year has noticed how they are driving strongly towards the cloud, at the expensive of on-premises solutions. Microsoft is moving both its products - and indeed its own internal IT - to the Azure cloud as quickly as practicalities permit.
  • Azure is big. It's really big. Seriously, it's hard to comprehend just how big it really is. (Apologies to Douglas Adams.) In July of last year, then-CEO Steve Ballmer stated that Azure data centers held "comfortably over a million physical servers." Last year, Azure server purchases accounted for 17% of all server purchases worldwide. And Azure is only getting bigger. In May of 2013, Global Foundation Services general manager Christian Belady stated that his division was performing data center build-outs "at a scale no one has ever seen before". At Tech Ed North America in June, Technical Fellow (and now Azure CTO) Mark Russinovich stated that Microsoft's plan was to double Azure's capacity in 2015…and double it again in 2016. Can you even wrap your head around how big that is? 
  • Azure AD is at the center of Azure. As Active Directory director of program management Alex Simons puts it, "identity is the control plane" upon which cloud services depend. And for Azure, this control plane is Azure Active Directory.
  • Microsoft is not content to let Azure AD be just a "lowest common denominator" solution. A long-recognized Microsoft product pattern is to provide basic capabilities, and allow a rich independent software vendor ecosystem to enhance these capabilities with their own products. In contrast to this strategy, Simons has a team of 500 working on building out Azure AD with a competitive set of features to compete in the IDaaS (identity management as a service) market. 30 developers are working on machine learning-based reporting alone.

Promises are one thing, of course, and execution is another. You could fill a filing cabinet with Microsoft announcements and intentions that never saw the light of day. But let's take a look at Azure AD announcements over the last 3 months to rebut that critique:

That’s a lot of product announcements and enhancements. It sounds like Simons isn't finished yet, either. Yesterday, Gartner analyst Lydia Leong tweeted, "Recently listened to cloud plans from Cisco HP IBM Microsoft and Oracle. Microsoft exponentially more visionary, ambitious. Astoundingly so." Those are strong words. So hang on tight and stay tuned; I'll be tweeting or reporting on changes to Azure AD as they're announced.

Sean writes about cloud identity, Microsoft hybrid identity, and whatever else he finds interesting at his blog on Enterprise Identity and on Twitter at @shorinsean.

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