Russ Arun

2010 Outstanding Technical Leadership
Arun spearheaded dramatic improvements in the Window Live Communications Platform.

Given the success of Windows Live today, and the extent of engineering excellence and best practices it now claims, it's easy to gloss over the difficulties encountered in getting to this point. Hindsight is, after all, 20/20. But if you go back five years and consider the enormity of the engineering and business leadership necessary to make online services and cloud computing reliable and acceptable to the public, not to mention cost competitive for Microsoft, only then do you get a full sense of the enormity of Russ Arun's accomplishments.

While credit obviously goes to the hard work of the teams involved, it was Arun's consistent leadership as General Manager (now Partner Group Program Manager) of the Windows Live Communications Platform, predicated on a deep understanding of the business, service, and technical challenges they faced, that served as the catalyst for today's overwhelming success of Hotmail, Messenger, Address Book Clearing House (ABCH), and Windows Live Storage.

"The story really starts in 2004, when I took over Hotmail, Messenger, and what was then Storage," recalls Arun. "Those three took three different journeys, and each of them led to a different set of decisions."

Arun's first business challenge came almost immediately, as Google launched Gmail with an unprecedented 1 GB inbox. Arun led the v-team that planned and executed the competitive response that allowed Microsoft to offer competitive services, while changing the underlying architecture, increasing the revenue and keeping costs well within the original budget. Phil Smoot led the technical architecture changes. In short order, the service's 75 million mailboxes offered a respectable 250 MB, achieving 1 GB within a year (today it boasts 2 GB of storage).

Equally important was Arun's focus on controlling costs and enhancing revenue as these technical improvements took place, which is a trademark of his management style. "If we had rolled out [these improvements] under our cost structure at that time, it would have been very costly," explains Arun.

Messenger, meanwhile, was encountering challenges of its own. Arun vividly recalls the October day in 2004 when Messenger was brought down for a routine 2-hour maintenance procedure and issues surfaced when the team attempted to bring the service back up. It was a catastrophic failure. Out of this came his "No Cloud Down" initiative, an ambitious project designed to enable maintenance to occur while the service remained live. "At first the team just thought it was ridiculous," Arun recalls with a laugh. "But to their credit, they embraced it and ran with it." Multiple potential single points of failure were eliminated, while server management costs were dramatically reduced. Today, the service runs continuously, and the largest issue is likely to be a network glitch lasting just a few seconds.

Arun also takes pride in the fact that so many of these changes were essentially seamless to Microsoft's customers. "With both Hotmail and Messenger, it was like changing engines on a flying plane. It's easy to make changes on a new service. It was much more difficult to do when we [simultaneously] had to run the service, and we still had millions of users, and our user base was growing dramatically." The enormity of this challenge made success all the sweeter. "I can tell you it was probably one of the most satisfying times I've had in my professional career."

Another source of satisfaction was the establishment of a high degree of cross-divisional cooperation that now serves as a model for the company. When it came time to develop a manageability solution for Messenger, Arun eschewed the politically easy path of creating something internally, and instead reached out to Search General Manager Ken Moss, to see if they could leverage Search's Autopilot technology. The two agreed that it would be in the best interests of both teams—and of Microsoft—if they were to utilize the same technology. The result was a more technically sophisticated solution than either team could have delivered independently. Says Arun: "It took a little more engineering initially, but it provided phenomenal benefit for us—a benefit that stays with us today."

Given Arun's ability to foster this kind of collaboration, it should come as no surprise that he is very quick to share credit for his award. "I don't think any of these should be individual awards at all, because I don't think that I would have achieved any of this without the people on the team behind it." Phil Smoot of Hotmail and Messenger's Ramesh Manne are among the many colleagues that he credits. Especially important to Arun is the team's ability to look beyond intriguing engineering challenges in order to embrace more mundane, but equally vital, business matters spanning finance, operations, revenues, and costs.

"Between all of us, we were interested in every aspect of it. We felt it was important for us to make something that was sustainable for Microsoft, and made business sense overall."