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Two Microsoft tech wizards are reinventing the future of the cloud — and having a blast

As technical leaders, Jeffrey Snover and Mark Russinovich’s give-and-take extends to their teams as they bring Azure and Windows Server closer than ever before. Snover is a distinguished engineer and lead architect for Windows Server, while Russinovich is Azure’s chief technical officer. Each improves the other’s platform in a virtuous circle. Their collaboration is at the heart of Microsoft’s Cloud Platform, which aims to be the most complete cloud offering in the industry.

Snover and Russinovich will highlight how Microsoft’s evolving datacenter platform can help companies transform in a session at Microsoft Ignite, Platform Vision & Strategy Overview: Bringing Azure to Your Datacenter.

There will also likely be jokes.

A novelist’s inscription to a friend is often a thoughtful, intimate note. Russinovich took a slightly different tack as he inscribed one of his books for longtime colleague Snover: “Jeffrey, good luck with your career. Mark.”

Plot that career out on a map, Snover gleefully notes—from New England to Texas to the Pacific Northwest—and it’s identical to the path Russinovich has taken. “Mark has followed me around like a little puppy,” he jokes.

Get the two together and wisecracks and goofiness abound. Recently, a Kinect-powered art installation on Microsoft’s Redmond campus, where a mosaic of tiles flutter and mirror passersby, drew them in like moths to a flame. Russinovich stood before the installation flapping his arms before striking a Vitruvian Man pose. All the while Snover snapped photos with his phone, presumably for social media shaming.

The work they do is a tad more serious.

“We’re the only company that can build a public cloud like Azure, operate at a massive scale, and then take those learnings into your data center,” Snover says. Meanwhile, Windows Server’s investments in supporting Linux have made Azure “the sea that refuses no river.”

That synergistic development puts Microsoft at a tremendous advantage overs its competitors, Russinovich says. Why? For the simple fact that companies will straddle two worlds—their datacenter and the cloud—for a while.

“The lights of the last on-premises server won’t be flicked off for a number of years,” Russinovich says. “No other company is in a better position to lead during this transition.”

Offering the best of both worlds

The idea at first struck some as silly. Put Windows on a server? Snover says there were a few snickers back in 2000, when Microsoft shipped Windows in both desktop and server flavors. The company had the last laugh as Microsoft’s server OS became wildly popular. Today, Windows Server powers roughly 70 percent of all servers, Snover says.

Then the cloud happened. Azure became the fabric for Microsoft’s public cloud, while Windows Server continued to power tens of millions of servers in private data centers.

Meanwhile, the two teams started to work together toward a single unified platform. Russinovich and Snover would sweat over the tougher problems during weekly sessions at the gym. One of the issues Snover faced is that the cloud wants to be lean and agile, but the server operating system is very large.

Enter Nano Server, announced earlier this month. In essence it’s a lean-and-mean version of Windows Server optimized for the cloud. It has just the features a customer needs to run cloud applications, and nothing they don’t. Nano Server has a fraction of the footprint of Windows Server (and 80 percent fewer reboots to boot).

It’s a project Microsoft has worked on for years, and one that would have been impossible without help from the Azure team, Snover says. “The strongest steel is forged in the hottest crucible,” Snover says. “That’s Azure. If you can run it there, you can run it anywhere.”

At the same time Nano Server was unveiled, Microsoft also announced new container technologies. “Containers” have become a popular way for developers to package their applications to run in the cloud on any platform. To help, the Azure team introduced Hyper-V Containers, a new container deployment option with enhanced isolation powered by Hyper-V virtualization.

Not coincidentally, Nano Server is the perfect complement to Windows Server containers and Hyper-V Containers.

Through their work together, Microsoft will also be delivering the recently announced Azure Service Fabric on-premises, enabling developers and ISVs to build cloud services with a high degree of scalability and customization whether on-premises or in the cloud.

As the two continue to blur the lines between the public and private cloud, they’ll keep doing the same with their two teams. The removal of silos reflects the new Microsoft under CEO Satya Nadella, Russinovich and Snover say. Customer obsession is what matters, not org charts.

“It’s liberating to operate like this, to do everything we can to give customers choice,” Russinovich says. “We let you run whatever you want on our platform. You can dip your toes into Microsoft technology or go in for the full stack, but it’s up to you.”

Snover and Russinovich will keep ribbing each other as they collaborate on the industry’s most complete cloud offering. The pace of the cloud is relentless—working on it is a lot like riding a wild horse, Russinovich says. But as they trade the not-infrequent flippant comment, the pair will remain unflappable.

“I feel like my life has accelerated a lot in the past four years,” Russinovich says. “But it’s better than being bored. In this disruptive world, if you’re not having a frenetic life you’re not part of it.”

For what’s next on the work these guys are doing together, stay tuned to the Ignite Website and keep an eye on the Server & Cloud blog. You can also join the fun with on Twitter:

Twitter.com/jsnover

Twitter.com/markrussinovich