Microsoft CTO discusses IT's future apart from the cloud

Globalization, increased regulations and data growth are three, according to Barry Briggs

Despite the unrelenting hype around cloud computing, it's just one aspect of several that will shape the next generation of enterprise IT, according to Barry Briggs, CTO of Microsoft IT.

Increased government regulation, the complexities introduced by globalization and explosive growth in data are major issues, Briggs said at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology on Monday evening.

Microsoft recently completed a project that encapsulates those three factors -- a master customer database, containing records for 100 million corporate customers and some 2 billion identities, Briggs said. "That's a big deal."

Outside factors like legal compliance spanning many countries globally make such efforts even more complex. In an effort to keep in line with the rules, Microsoft has a chief privacy officer for every line of its business, Briggs said. "We're fanatical about the privacy of our customers."

Globalization and Microsoft's drive for new business is affecting IT's role in the supply chain as well. Some emerging countries gain 25 percent or 30 percent of their overall revenue from import duties, he said. "You better get the paperwork right."

Moreover, those new markets mean Microsoft's IT strategy has to change, Briggs said. "What is the profile of our next billion customers? If they're in emerging and developing countries ... they probably won't buy in the traditional way. That has significant implications for how we build our systems."

Meanwhile, Briggs has a substantial workload running Microsoft's sprawling internal systems. The company has some 228,000 SharePoint sites in its corporate intranet, according to Briggs.

"SharePoint is in our DNA. We use it for everything," he said. The company has made it easy for employees to spin up a SharePoint site as needed. "It takes for minimum case, not any more than five minutes. We've made it a utility."

Microsoft.com will be running entirely on SharePoint in the near future, "just to prove out the scale," he added.

Beyond giving employees broad access to collaboration tools like SharePoint, it also wants to enable self-service, well-governed BI (business intelligence) through tools like the recently unveiled PowerPivot.

Today, "we see a lot of people doing ad-hoc BI," Briggs said. "So and so knows so and so who knows a connection string to that database. 'Let's pull it out and run some reports, and maybe change that data and then write it back, corrupting the [main data store]."

"We're empowering our end-users to do the sorts of analyses they should be able to do," Briggs added. Internally, PowerPivot is referred to as Microsoft's "safe needle program for BI," he said.

Briggs also discussed Microsoft's cloud-computing strategy, including its Azure utility computing and development platform, which competes with the likes of Amazon Web Services.

Concerns about security in the cloud persist heavily among the people Briggs speaks to, he said. It's less of a technical hurdle than "a psychological thing," he said. "Where's my data? Who controls my data?"

Microsoft has been forced to mold its Azure strategy in response to customer concerns. "We have a separate instance of Azure specifically for the U.S. government," Briggs said.

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Chris Kanaracus

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