How to Build Large-Scale Solutions in The Cloud

Paul Maher, who has recently returned to Microsoft, brings his cloud expertise to the new Industry Experiences team

Paul Maher’s experiences come to bear in his new role as head of the Industry Experiences team at Microsoft. Photo by Gillian Fry.

The question is no longer if a company should consider cloud solutions to meet their digital transformation needs; it’s more about when and how to move to the cloud.

Paul Maher, the general manager of Microsoft’s new Industry Experiences team, intimately knows the state of cloud migration. With more than twenty years in the technology industry, Maher has worked across multiple industries on cloud projects both from within Microsoft and outside. In fact, while at his previous employer Milliman, an actuarial services and solution firm in the global life insurance market, Maher and his engineering team built one of the largest software solutions on the Microsoft Azure cloud platform.

“I’ve worked in industry and built real-world solutions on the cloud,” Maher says. “I have extensive industry experience and a deep technical background from working in the technology industry across a variety of roles.”

Today, he is bringing that cloud experience to help the Microsoft Azure engineering team collaborate directly with industry customers and partner, solving their digital transformation needs using the Microsoft Azure cloud. But Maher understands that to be successful with cloud projects, some fundamentals need to be defined and agreed up front, for example: overall project goals, clear architecture design, identifying potential risks, and agreement on clear milestones to track project progress. It’s also essential to have the right skilled resource on the project from the beginning to be set up for success, he says.

Maher shared some of the lessons learned after years of working on large-scale cloud projects across multiple industries.

Know Your Motivation

It’s important, according to Maher, to be prepared to be challenged by others about your decision to move to the cloud, whether building software solutions on top of the cloud platform or moving IT functions to the cloud. Maher recommends anyone seriously looking into the endeavor clearly understand and be able to articulate why they want to make the transition. This helps your conversations both internally and externally.

“Being able to clearly explain why you chose to move to the cloud is a must,” Maher says.

Maher recommends having a data-driven approach to the discussion, being prepared to address common questions about cloud such as cost, ownership, control, security, and so on.

Understand the Benefits

“The benefits of moving to the cloud are innumerable,” Maher says. They include operational agility, quicker time to market, improved security, reliability, reduced IT cost, reduced management overhead, and a pay-as-you-go pricing model, which Maher finds particularly appealing for Microsoft’s customers and partners.

“The cloud provides access to scalable services such as compute and storage with a pay-as-you go pricing model,” Maher says. “The cloud is helping industries innovate to meet their digital transformation needs.”

Although the idea of moving to a cloud pay-as-you-go model from traditional pay models is a paradigm shift, Maher believes it provides more freedom to control costs. It’s important to become comfortable with the model and build a solid understanding of how cloud pricing works. Once you do, you’ll immediately see the benefits over traditional licensing models, Maher says.

Tracking Progress

As with all IT projects, it’s important to be prepared to provide clear feedback on progress. Whether you’re building a cloud software solution or migrating IT functions to the cloud, Maher says that you should define realistic deliverables and associated milestones. Too often projects set unrealistic deadlines , which can set the project up for failure from the beginning. Ideally, give advance warning if there will be slips in a date from what was originally forecast, Maher says. This can build confidence in your ability to plan and give ongoing feedback about the health of your project.

“It’s good to have a North Star,” Maher says. “This keeps focus on your overall project delivery as you track performance against the various project milestones.”

Building Cloud Solutions

It’s important to take the time to design and architect cloud solutions correctly considering key components such as performance, scalability, reliability, and security. Maher says this is where bringing in experienced people to help, whether they’re full-time staff or consultants and following best practices is essential.

“Learn from the experiences of others who have already been involved in cloud projects,” Maher says. “Building cloud solutions requires both an understanding of the cost to develop and test the pre-release versions as well an understanding of the cost to run the live released solution. Not being in control of your costs is a recipe for disaster that you want to avoid.”

Another area to fully understand, Maher says, is the role of DevOps.

“DevOps ensures good collaboration between software developers and IT,” Maher says. “DevOps should be focused on automating software for continuous building, testing, and deployment.”

Supporting Cloud Solutions

Whomever your cloud solution is for, either internal use or to sell to customers, fully understanding the need for security, compliance, and service-level agreements (SLAs) is extremely important. Knowing who is accountable, you or your cloud provider, also is critical. This is important to understand when entering into contract discussions with potential customers if you’re selling your cloud solution and services, Maher says.

Another consideration is your support infrastructure. This may differ, Maher says, if your solution is delivered internally or offered as a managed service externally to customers. You will likely need to make an investment in support and operations resource. According to Maher, it’s important to have the right skilled people for these functions and look to automation and tooling as much as possible to support your operational needs.

Have the Right Team in Place

To be successful building software solutions and moving IT functions to the cloud, Maher recommends defining and having the right team in place from the beginning. “It’s important to have a partnership between business stakeholders and technical stakeholders,” Maher says. “You need to have a diverse and multidiscipline team to deliver across the various requirements of your cloud project.”

Above all, Maher says, it’s important to have a mix of experienced professionals on the team to lead and support your cloud transformation projects. That doesn’t mean those with traditional IT roles today will not have a place in the future; it’s merely an evolution of roles.

The Industry Experiences Team

Today, Maher is building the Industry Experiences team at Microsoft. He is focusing his energy on putting together a team that deeply aligns with industry. The team’s goal is to connect and engages with industry by working with partner and customer decision makers, architects, and developers. So, they will focus on providing technical and industry domain expertise and helping businesses be successful using the Microsoft Azure cloud. For Maher, it’s an exciting new chapter in his career and one he’s ready to embark on.

“There’s an opportunity to be involved helping industry address their digital transformation needs and challenges,” Maher says. “I’m excited to have the opportunity to help our Microsoft customers and partners be successful on their journey to the cloud.”

Meet the Team

The Industry Experiences team is initially focusing on banking and capital markets, insurance, manufacturing, retail, and healthcare while Maher recruits the right industry leads and architects to focus on more areas. To staff the team, Maher is bringing in people who bring a diverse set of backgrounds and skills to the table. “My philosophy is to hire smart people who I know have the ability to be successful,” he says. “If you surround yourself with smart people, you can achieve anything.”

Industry Leads:

  • Banking and Capital Markets: Howard Bush has twenty-five years of experience at companies such as; Bank of America, National City Bank, First Union, and most recently Microsoft.
  • Insurance: Nick Leimer is joining the team from ManuLife and bringing nearly thirty years in the actuarial profession at companies such as AIG, ARC, and Bureau of Labor Statistics.
  • Manufacturing: With a PhD in mechanical engineering, Diego Tamburini is joining the team from AutoDesk and bringing twenty-five years of experience, including time at companies such Microsoft and Siemens PLM.
  • Retail: Mariya Zorotovich has sixteen years of experience at Nordstrom,, and most recently Microsoft.
  • Cross Industry: Eric Griffin has twenty-five years of experience at Coca-Cola, Apple, London Bridge, and most recently Microsoft.

Cloud Architects: Giovanni Marchetti, Ercenk Keresteci, and Scott Seely have an extensive background of building real-world cloud solutions in various industries.

Technical Writer: Joshua Maher has more than fifteen years of experience of writing for popular online websites and publications.