Marcelo Calbucci

Guest Commentary: This week Microsoft made a big announcement by providing TechStars startups up to $60,000 worth of Windows Azure services for two years. That’s huge. I have never seen Amazon or any other cloud provider, or any other provider of anything, offer this much.

It’s an exciting opportunity for those startups, but it also shows that Microsoft has not been getting enough traction with the startup community.

Let me roll back to a blog post I wrote exactly 3 years ago, shortly after Microsoft launched Azure:

“… I have a final piece of advice to Microsoft: Don’t look for inspiration for innovation on the enterprise. Innovation comes from Startups. Although the enterprise revenue probably is 100x the startup revenue for you, every piece of innovation in computer history came first from a startup…”

Yes, Microsoft didn’t listen to me. It became clear when I tried to learn Azure, followed by getting a sticker shock when I considered moving my blog to Azure.

Microsoft is a slave to its own success on the enterprise. Visual Studio, SQL Server, Exchange Server, Office and many other Microsoft process are category winners inside the enterprise. Microsoft makes so much money on these products that once it sees a new category, its first instinct is to ask how to push it to the enterprise. How to upsell it or bundle with some other product. It makes short-term business sense. It can create a new $100M revenue stream in year one.

That’s what Microsoft tried to do with Azure. Microsoft invited the enterprise IT managers to help spec Azure. Microsoft asked the enterprise department how much would they pay for this or that.

Just to be clear, I don’t wish Azure any harm. I want it to succeed, but right now I can’t adopt Azure because it’s incompatible with the price I can pay (and I can pay a lot) and it’s incompatible with the quality of service I need.

Here is what I recommend Microsoft do to make Azure more appealing to startups:

  1. Give a significant discount to startups: Beyond the free tier and the BizSpark credits, we still need to slow down our cost. The primary problem with consumer startups is that the audience comes way ahead of revenue. I might have a million users on my site and yet I’m trying to figure out my revenue model.
  2. Make deployment much easier: The difference between a hacker using Azure one time or using Azure a dozen times to build products is highly correlated to how painful you make the process of setting up and deploying on Azure. In other words, a developer with a bad experience deploying in Azure will be a lot less likely to pick Azure for his next project. Even worse, he’ll be influential in the decision of their friends of not picking Azure.
  3. Make deployment faster: This dialog happened last week: Me: “SoftLayer takes just about 1 hour to get a new physical server installed and ready to go for me.” Developer-using-Azure: “Wow, that’s almost as fast as getting a new Azure instance going.” Microsoft, that’s not good for you. This is the kind of brand association you don’t want. Don’t give excuses about the architecture or VMs or anything. Just fix it.
  4. Go where startups are: When AWS was getting started they were at every single startup event in Seattle. Jeff Barr, who was their first evangelist, would go to events and talk to people. They even created the “AWS Startup Challenge.” They obsessively focused on early-adopters (aka, Startups). One time they did an event for 500+ entrepreneurs and developers in Seattle to talk about their stuff. Maybe I’m just being blind, but I don’t see Azure evangelists doing the same thing.

One of the reasons I created the Dot Net Startup meetup was to try to get startup folks talking about the shortcomings (and benefits) of the Microsoft stack so we can bubble up feature requests to Microsoft.

Traditionally, Microsoft has designed its platform in a top-down style, but clearly the company is more and more involved in Open Source and community-driven initiatives like NuGet. I’d love to use Azure, but from what I learned so far and what my entrepreneur friends are telling me, it doesn’t make good business sense.

Marcelo Calbucci is the Co-founder & CTO of EveryMove, a startup creating an incentive platform for your physical activity and a former Microsoft employee. He’s also the organizer of the Dot Net Startup meetup. You can follow him on Twitter @calbucci or on his blog.

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  • No way

    Ok so quick response from a guy using Azure at his startup.

    1 – I would think the free tier is cheap enough for most people. But I guess you’re right. I would like MORE stuff for free.
    2 – Deployment has been shortened to about 2 clicks through visual studio. It’s so easy you could do it by accident. If you’re not getting that experience try updating to the newest version of the Azure SDK (1.6).

    3 – I deploy my entire application in about 15 minutes to as many servers as I want. I have no idea what’s taking you an hour. I literally uploaded a new version today and it took about 15 minutes.

    4 – This one you’re right about. MSFT should be out there pushing the product in person more. I can say however they are incredibly responsive in the forums. I’ve already had the Azure platform tailored to my businesses needs because of the feedback I gave.

    • Aaron Bird

      Ditto on all accounts.  We use Azure, deployment is about 15 min (should be 1 min, but 15 isn’t the end of the world).

      Re price:
      – Azure compute is the same price as Windows on AWS.  
      – SQL Azure instances starts at $10/month and AWS entry point for a managed DB is 79/month.
      – Table storage is 0.15/GB/month and AWS’s SimpleDB (their non-relational data store) is 0.25/GB/month – about 2X the price of Azure.

      So, Azure is the same price or cheaper than AWS.  Price isn’t really an issue on Azure.

      Real suggestions for Azure are:
      – Faster deployment (I agree with this one)
      – Secondary indexes in table storage.  Brad please!!!
      – Full support for existing SQL Tooling in SQL Azure (like SQL SMS)

  • Guest

    Duh. The sad part is that you have to give that advice which amounts to basic common sense.

  • Guest

    I’ve been asking since day 1 how to deploy an HIPAA app on Azure but still don’t have a clear answer. AWS has (technically light) white papers with reference accounts.

  • Jeff Barr

    Hi Marcelo, thanks for the shout-out! I still attend plenty of events and talk to people, as do my colleagues.

  • friism

    I think .NET startups might be better off on AppHarbor ( than on Azure. We create AppHarbor because we wanted deployement to be easier and faster. Plus, AppHarbor deploys from source control and has a big catalog of great add-ons (eg. MongoHQ, Redis to Go, Memcached etc.). 

    (disclaimer, I’m co-founder of AppHarbor)

  • Todd Whitehead

    Deployment is slow for us too  for a simple ecommerce site.
    5 mins to package
    10 mins to upload
    15-60 minutes to init and startup the VM

    Its that last step that causes the pain and MS needs to fix. This is in the singapore data centre so maybe other datacentres are faster.

  • OhanaMala

    If it’s taking you an hour to privision and deploy an azure service, you’re doing something WAY wrong. I just yesterday decided to move my MVC3 web app to Azure out of shared hosting.

    Taking advantage of EF code first and SQL Azure for the DB, I was online in less than an hour, and that includes installing the SDK and Visual Studio tools.

    From actually clicking deploy to having it live was like 5 minutes, and that’s with never having logged into the azure control panel before.

    • Todd Whitehead

       Then i can only think there is something different in the data centres assuming your doing a full deployment and not the fast webdeploy method that doesnt survive VM recycles.

  • Bjorn Coltof

    Recently started with Azure, don’t have to same experience during deployment, it takes 15 minutes, would love for it to be faster, but never had a 15m+ deployment happen…

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