Scale matters: Windows Azure, Windows Stores & Xbox One

The following is a post from Frank X. Shaw, Corporate Vice President of Corporate Communications at Microsoft.


Scale is a word I come across frequently these days.

In this era of cloud computing, system scalability is key. Satya Nadella focused on the significance of scale a couple of weeks ago in his post about the era of the cloud OS.

It’s interesting to think about scale from a software architecture perspective, as we move from the scale-up systems of the past, to the horizontal scale-out systems of the future. I don’t pretend to be a software engineer, but I realize this shift is significant.

Scale is significant in business, too, as the Wikipedia description of scalability correctly notes. In fact, it’s the first word that came to mind yesterday when we announced our strategic partnership with Best Buy to create Windows Stores within 500 U.S. Best Buys and more than 100 Best Buy and Future Shop locations in Canada. These stores-within-a-store will roll out between now and September and will have more than 1,200 Best Buy Microsoft-trained sales associates ready to help consumers make the most informed decisions.

Boom! Horizontal scale. In about 100 days.

As my boss, Chris Capossela, explained in this Windows blog interview, we’ve been growing our retail presence with 68 Microsoft stores now open in North America. But this partnership with Best Buy allows us to provide a “premium experience for customers at scale” (Chris’ words, not mine Smile) in a manner and a timeframe we couldn’t have achieved on our own.

While Best Buy is the number 1 retailer of PCs in the world, this partnership will allow us to highlight the range of our products and services, from PCs and tablets to Windows Phone and Xbox One (which is going to be high on my family’s must-have list this holiday). That’s something else we started to highlight this week as well, as we launched a new television advertising campaign here in the U.S. that shows how Windows 8 devices and services work together to provide individuals “One experience. On every device. For everything in your life.”

The ad debuted Wednesday night during the epic triple overtime Stanley Cup hockey finals game between the Chicago Blackhawks and Boston Bruins, which achieved the best TV rating for a Stanley Cup Final game in 16 years.

Boom! Telling our better together story. At scale.

Earlier this morning, we announced Office Mobile for the iPhone. It’s now available from the Apple App Store at no extra charge for Office 365 Home Premium and Office 365 ProPlus subscribers. This iPhone app makes it easy to view and edit content from a device that’s done some pretty nice scaling of its own, although I still prefer my Windows Phone. But let’s not overlook Office 365 Home Premium.

More than 1 million subscriptions in a little more than 100 days, as we announced late last month.

Boom! Productivity services. At scale.

The topic of scale arose in a couple of dimensions this week at E3, the gaming show in L.A. As Roger Cheng of CNET points out in this story, the Xbox One’s online connection allows it to tap into the cloud, allowing for “infinite scalability.”

Or check out Polygon’s take on how “Forza Motorsport 5 will use the cloud to make games more lifelike, with human intelligence.

But the focus of E3 wasn’t computing architectures. It was “all about the games,” as Interactive Entertainment Business Group President Don Mattrick said in kicking off our 90-minute keynote Monday morning.

We didn’t disappoint. “Titanfall.” “Halo.” “Dead Rising 3.” “Ryse: Son of Rome.” “Forza Motorsport 5.” These are just some of the blockbuster exclusives you can only play on Xbox One.

As Don said, the team showcased 13 new-generation Xbox One games (there were 17 new Xbox One titles announced during the week, 10 exclusive to Xbox One). He was followed by Yusuf Mehdi, who talked about “literally hundreds of new games” coming to the new Xbox 360; who then was followed by Phil Spencer, head of Microsoft Studios, who said we have more titles in development now than at any other time in Xbox history; who then was followed by Marc Whitten, who explained how these next-generation games get even better with Xbox Live and SmartGlass multi-screen experiences; who then was followed by Phil Spencer, who re-emerged to tell the audience that we’re investing in five new studios to create blockbuster franchises for Xbox.

You get the point. Games. Games. Games. We are currently producing more than we ever have and are scaling to produce more.

Now, E3 wasn’t without its controversies related to our pricing and licensing policies. I’ve read some tough stories about potential near-term consequences, but, fundamentally, we are focused on driving hard to the digital gaming future. Any big shift can provoke controversy, but I thought this ars technica story based on an interview with Yusuf did a good job of highlighting the tension that exists as the gaming industry evolves.

There are times when what is really needed is incremental improvement of a product. There are companies who play that role in gaming right now. And there are times when a vision for the future demands a leap. That’s what we’re doing with Xbox One.

One of my favorite stories about Xbox is the reaction of so many when they saw we’d put an Ethernet port in that original device. People laughed…broadband? In 2001? We were living in a dial-up world. So who would ever connect a game console to a broadband network? More than 48 million connected devices later, that seemingly inconceivable notion is not only accepted, it’s imitated.

We have a vision for the future of entertainment and of gaming that are expressed in Xbox One, Kinect, the new controllers and all the new games on display this week. We’re leading, not following the industry forward, just as we did when we put that Ethernet port on the back of the original Xbox and launched Xbox Live in November 2002.

I don’t know if persistence is scalable, but I do know there’s no shortage of it here within the section of campus where our Xbox team works.