One-on-One with Dave Crowley

Chief Technical Advisor, Microsoft

Dave has been working on future product enhancements and next generation technology in the fiber networking space. Dave has over 30 years of experience in network design, architecture, capacity management, traffic engineering, deployment, scheduling and support for some of the world’s largest network infrastructures.

Can you talk about the approach you have taken in supporting the Internet infrastructure and connectivity of Microsoft’s data centers and Cloud services?

When I joined Microsoft, it was important for me to articulate the entire ecosystem of Internet infrastructure. Delivering on our five 9s SLAs was straightforward in North America. But there were challenges in places like Brazil, China and India, where the cultures are different, and the methods to operate are not the same as in the western world. Having global responsibility, it was challenging dealing with the operating capabilities of countries in the developing world. The customers expect the same level of service regardless of the geography. As a service provider, when you look at Azure networking platform, we have to provide a consistent level of service and be seamless in our service delivery capabilities regardless of the geography we are delivering the service in.

Can you share with our readers some of the key achievements in your career so far?

One of the key achievements was that we got Microsoft to make investments in long-term strategic assets. The infrastructure space—telecommunications, subsea fiber, dark fiber, lit services, terrestrial fiber—has not been a space that Microsoft operates in. To convince a software company to make a 20-year investment was a big win for my group.

As we started looking at the capacity, we realized quickly that at the current pace of consuming bandwidth, we are going to run out of capacity. We needed to add more capacity, which takes a long time especially when you talk about subsea. We started putting together plans and had to execute on those plans. Part of those plans called for Microsoft to start taking an ownership position in the capacity of the subsea cables. Hurricane Sandy in 2013 was a big wake-up call as we lost a lot of capacity as a result of that. The vulnerability that it had created was exposed. This made us shift the way we used to think about infrastructure and subsea capacity. Prior to the hurricane, we didn’t realize what having all the capacity in a condensed area meant. So that was a big driver that made us to look at the MAREA project and we looked at diverse locations at both ends of the Atlantic Ocean.

There is a paradigm shift underway wherein the industry is moving away from multiple-carrier consortia to partnerships amongst fewer companies for subsea cable projects. What led to this change?

Bandwidth capacity requirements are increasing at a rapid pace.  With the smaller consortia, we can make quick decisions and act with a lot more agility. In this day and age, time to market is extremely important and we cannot afford to be in long, convoluted committee meetings and delay the decision-making process. Partners are an important part of the ecosystem, especially when it comes to landing on the beach, and in many cases in terms of operating the cable. But our approach at the moment is to minimize the number of partners with the goal of acting swiftly. One of the charters of my team was to change the telecommunications ecosystem and the buying behavior of content and Cloud providers and other OTTs. In geographies such as the Middle East, Africa and India, we are not going to land a cable without a partner. In these regions, once a cable lands we need a partner as the landing party, for back-haul and for other parts of the ecosystem.

How important is subsea and terrestrial capacity for Microsoft to the success of Azure and overall to Microsoft Data Centers?

Subsea and terrestrial capacity and the underlying infrastructure are key to the success of Azure Cloud. As we continue to expand our Cloud platform and open more in-region Cloud availability zones, fast, reliable and low-latency connectivity is important to get the data across the continents. Microsoft started investing in subsea cables in a multi-step approach – we were first leasing lit capacity in subsea cables, then we started leasing entire pairs of dark fiber as IRUs (indefeasible right of use) and started lighting it ourselves. Now we are co-owners in subsea cables where we own and operate our capacity in systems. This gives us increased flexibility and less dependency on carriers. In addition to capacity, scalability and low-latency, route diversity and resiliency play a big factor for us when we are evaluating fiber routes – be it on land or underwater.

Can you share with us one passion of yours that you like to pursue when you are not thinking about improving the global Internet infrastructure?

I enjoy fishing a lot. However, when I’m out fishing, I am usually with people who are from the industry and they all share my passion to improve the global Internet infrastructure. I do like fly fishing a lot as it gives me an opportunity to spend quality time with myself. Traveling abroad is my second passion. I enjoy meeting people from other cultures and attempt to immerse myself within their cultures to gain a deeper understanding as well as insights as to how the world looks and works from another person’s perspective. This allows for my personal growth, expands critical thinking and my views of the world. With my current job at Microsoft and with the job at Limelight, I had the opportunity to travel a lot internationally, which has helped me broaden my horizons.