Microsoft President Brad Smith on the Cloud, Tech Failures, and Boston’s “Extraordinary Advantage”


The latest version of the venerable Windows operating system from Microsoft Corp. was released this week. But during a visit to Cambridge on Tuesday, Microsoft President Brad Smith didn’t say a word about Windows 11 until asked. Ten years ago, a Microsoft executive wouldn’t have talked about anything else.

“I think this reflects just how more diverse Microsoft is today,” said Smith, a 28-year veteran of the Seattle-area company. “If you ask, well, what’s Microsoft’s center of gravity today, I think you’d say it’s the cloud, right? “

Microsoft’s cloud-based IT services are the fastest growing business in the business. The cloud generated $ 51.7 billion for Microsoft last year, up 35% from 2019. Microsoft is now the world’s largest cloud computing provider, even bigger than Amazon, which was the pioneer of the concept with its Amazon Web Services products. While Amazon still dominates in offering cloud services to other businesses, most of Microsoft’s cloud is used to host Microsoft’s own products, such as Microsoft 365, the online version of its popular Office apps. .

Smith’s visit coincided with Facebook’s global collapse, when an internal software glitch crippled the social network, as well as its sister services Instagram and WhatsApp for most of the day. Smith said that with so many Microsoft services now cloud-based, preventing similar outages is a critical task.

“It just shows how much people base their daily lives on their dependence on these services,” he said.

In the past, Microsoft could take its time responding to a report that one of its software products was buggy. Today, Smith said, the company must have engineers on call around the clock to respond instantly. In addition, the company builds redundancy into every cloud service.

With Microsoft 365, for example, “we run it from one data center and then back up customer business data to another data center,” Smith said. “We put these two data centers at least 150 miles apart. That way, even a major natural disaster is unlikely to bring them both down.

Microsoft’s New England research and development center on Memorial Drive and the company’s Burlington site have played a major role in Microsoft’s transition to the cloud. The company declined to disclose its workforce or hiring plans in Massachusetts. But its local offices include teams focused on Office development, artificial intelligence, cloud security, and software development tools.

And Smith is looking to recruit even more brainpower. He was in town to meet professors from Harvard University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

“Boston has a tremendous advantage over other places,” Smith said. “He has two great universities, not one.” (Some in the region would likely be outraged by this assessment.)

On the other hand, the Seattle area has two big tech companies: Microsoft and Amazon. Boston hasn’t been home to a true tech giant for many years, even as companies around the world are looking for talent at local universities.

Smith agreed that Seattle has benefited tremendously from having two huge philanthropic companies in the city, but added that Greater Boston is also in an enviable position.

“Do you know what most places in the world would give to have Harvard or MIT?” ” he said.

Hiawatha Bray can be contacted at [email protected] Follow him on twitter @GlobeTechLab.

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