It makes sense that Rick Ochs would save Microsoft millions of dollars.
After all, he had decided he would work at the company at the tender age of eight, and then made it happen right out of high school.
“My parents brought home an old 386, and, at the age of eight, I was already taking it apart,” says Ochs, speaking of a 32-bit microprocessor computer first introduced in 1985 (when Ochs was a year old). “I just fell in love, and so from a young age, I knew I wanted to work at Microsoft.”
By the time he was 12 he had built his own computer; by age 13 he had started building computers for others; by 14 he had his Windows 2000 professional certification; by 15 he was taking a class on Windows Server; and by 16 he was teaching his high school’s Windows Server class.
“They couldn’t hire me as a teacher, so they hired me as a consultant and paid me as a contractor,” Ochs says. “And so I was teaching Microsoft Certification courses even before I had a driver’s license.”
Ochs, now a 31-year-old senior service engineering manager in Microsoft IT, went on to take every class, certificate program, and training that he could as a high schooler growing up in the Seattle area. He also did IT admin work at various small businesses and worked 30 hours a week at a GameStop store. “I was doing everything I could do to build up my resume to get in the door of Microsoft.”
After high school, he enrolled at Bellevue College for a degree in IT, but two weeks into his first semester, he got a call from a Microsoft vendor asking him if he wanted to work at Microsoft as a build engineer. He was barely 19 years old.
“I didn’t have enough expertise to be a developer, I didn’t have enough chops to be a test person, but I could build things–I knew that,” Ochs says. “I decided to drop out of college because they wanted to hire me for the job I was going to college for.”
Finding a way to make a difference
Ochs parlayed that vendor job into a full-time role at Microsoft, fulfilling his lifelong goal of working here by age 20. He hired on as a system engineer in Microsoft IT. His job was to build development and test environments and document the process in exacting detail. Though not as soul-deadening as it sounds, it was a tough job to get excited about. He would take days and days to write 50-page-plus documentation plans and, if they didn’t work perfectly, he would have to do it all over again. After eight years of this, and with Microsoft moving to the cloud and adopting agile development methodologies, it became clear that it was time to look for something different.
Ochs began nosing around in the cloud and liked what he found. He got sponsored to attend a TechReady event where everyone was pumping the emerging opportunities in the cloud, ones that didn’t involve writing the kind of documentation that he had been choking on. That was the beginning of a gradual transition to an engineering role where he started learning how to write a bit of code (a little scary, but not too bad because it was mostly scripting), coming up with new ideas for what to build (he loved this), and building those ideas (always his forte).
The cloud called to him like a tornado calls to a storm chaser, and he quickly found himself falling hard for Microsoft Azure. It was a place where his continuous litany of ideas, plans, thoughts, and big thinking could finally emerge and be put to good use.
It didn’t take long to come up with a big idea.
His day job was to work with the different divisions in Microsoft IT on moving their applications into the cloud, and manage their brand new cloud infrastructure. As he did that work, he also had his ears perked up, and he was hearing a consistent theme from his infrastructure engineering coworkers—many people at Microsoft were using Azure like an old fashioned on-premises resource, meaning they were buying the same amount of capacity as they had before whether they used it or not. (And yes, everyone at Microsoft who uses Azure must pay for it like any other customer.)
As a new cloud enthusiast, Ochs knew Azure is something you buy by the hour if not the minute, so why buy more than you use?
“People were buying a tremendous amount of capacity that they just weren’t using,” Ochs says. It wasn’t just that, even when they did try to match their need with what they bought, they typically weren’t optimizing their use of Azure. There were several powerful tools developed by the Azure Infrastructure Team to fine-tune usage, but Microsoft employees weren’t using them consistently.
In addition, there was also a significant camp of people who were slow to move to the cloud, requiring the company to keep pouring money into old on-premises servers despite dwindling usage and growing maintenance costs.
There was a clear opportunity for the team to solve this problem.
Ochs and the Infrastructure Engineering organization came up with an optimization dashboard that showed people how much money they could save if they optimized the stuff they had in the cloud. It also showed people who hadn’t moved to the cloud how much they would save if they finally made the leap.
Calling it the “ARO (Azure Resource Optimization) Dashboard,” the team built it so that it hammered home how much cloud you were buying compared with how much you were actually using, providing percentages to make it painfully obvious how efficient (or inefficient) you were being.
The dashboard didn’t just call you out for wasting money, it also made it easy to optimize your usage–pull this lever here, pump that number down there, press that big red button and you’re there (kidding, but you get the idea–optimizing your Azure use is easy, you just need to think, ‘hey I should do this,’ and then do it.)
Microsoft IT started using the new dashboard in summer 2016 and its cloud bill immediately dropped by 30 percent, saving millions of dollars per month. And the organization’s cloud bill has continued to go down (it’s now down more than 40 percent overall) despite the organization moving more and more workload to the cloud. Microsoft IT is moving 1,500 server workloads from on-premises to the cloud every month.
“We went around to all the different BPUs (business process units) and showed it to them and said, ‘hey, look at all these servers that are idle that you can turn off,’” Ochs says. “And just going through that process, we are saving millions of dollars. Our budget in Microsoft IT for Azure dropped and dropped and dropped after we released this dashboard.”
The IT leadership team is using the dashboard to help set cloud adoption strategy and to set cost savings targets for fiscal year 2018. The ARO dashboard team is also demoing the tool at IT-related conferences like the Engineering Fundamentals Summit in India and the CloudMS Summit in Redmond and at team meetings.
Shooting ‘AROs’ across Microsoft
What started as a side project has since turned into a full-time job for Ochs and several others. And the ARO Dashboard is in the process of being rolled out to all Azure users at Microsoft.
“ARO has received a lot more attention over the last several months,” Ochs says. “I’ve been to many groups in the company to showcase it, and several of them have asked for us to onboard the tool so their team can use it as well.”
This has given it credibility.
“We’re starting to re-work the tool so anyone in the company can use it,” he says. “This side project has turned into a full-fledged development, design, and implementation project across the Enterprise Infrastructure Services (EIS) organization within Microsoft IT. This has been a really humbling experience.”
The team is also working on getting ARO’s optimization capabilities into the hands of external customers.
“The Azure team noticed the internal impact of these tools and is now looking to productize them so they can make them available in the Azure portal natively,” he says. “This was our long-term goal: to get these tools and concepts into Microsoft customer hands so they can benefit from the work Microsoft IT has pioneered.”
Not only is the ARO dashboard saving Microsoft money, the concepts within could soon be doing the same for customers, which will drive more usage of the product. It’s a fitting accomplishment for someone who has been tinkering with PC parts and Microsoft software and services for his entire life (or at least since he turned eight and got his hands on that 386).
To learn more about how Microsoft IT is using the ARO Dashboard, take a look at this optimizing resource efficiency in Microsoft Azure case study and watch this managing and optimizing resources for cloud computing at Microsoft webinar.