Microsoft Azure in review mirror is closer than it appears

By Subraya Mallya on 12 July 2010 | Topics - Cloud Computing

Microsoft has never been known to be the first mover in any new technology or product. If anything, they end up being the last entry into any new burgeoning technology area. Case in point, Office applications, Database, ERP, Web Search, Game Devices and now Cloud. But also true is the fact they don’t stay last in most of the areas they enter. The rear view mirror line – “The objects in the mirror are closer than they appear”  fits no one better than Microsoft, when it comes to them catching up on a technology trend. History seems to be repeating itself.

After being a me-too announcement of a Cloud Computing platform, Microsoft Azure, comprising of both Infrastructure-as-a-Service and Platform-as-a-Service, has seriously changed gears in the recent months. While always being a proponent of the Private/Hybrid Cloud movement, Microsoft has signed partnerships with large software companies and service providers  as shown by their recent announcements

  • Infor, 3rd largest business applications company with 70,000 customers across 100 countries,  committing to standardize its cloud offerings on Microsoft Azure
  • Ebay, announcing today, that is going to fit its data center with Microsoft Azure appliance
  • Dell, HP, Fujitsu to provide Azure Cloud in the data centers they manage.

If I am Amazon.com, Rackspace and also Salesforce.com to an extent, I would be starting to take Microsoft seriously.

Amazon, Rackspace and GoGrid are pure-play Infrastructure-as-a-Service providers. While pure-play infrastructure is appealing initially for its platform agnostic nature, it still requires that customers to do a lot of work. They have to build and maintain their own platform or lease a platform from another platform-as-a-service provider. An application company or an IT organization cannot continue to shoulder the burden of managing disparate service providers, their SLAs and keep getting ping-ponged for solving an issue. In my opinion, eventually these platforms will converge, atleast the infrastructure and platforms. Amazon, Rackspace, GoGrid will have to either acquire one or more platforms and move up the stack to provide a complete platform. Apprenda, Engine Yard and LongJump seem like good acquisition candidates for Cloud Infrastructure providers as they move up the stack to platforms across .NET, Ruby on Rails and Java.

Salesforce.com has a different challenge. They have a proprietary platform with a non-industry standard database which creates challenges for companies that build their products on them – as I alluded to in my Platform-as-a-Service post. Also the fact that they might compete on the product side with some of the companies that build product on their platform is  something companies would be vary of. Their recent announcement of the partnership with VMWare addresses the proprietary platform constraint, but we’ll have to wait and see how successful it will be.

So given this, Microsoft, with the cloud cover off its platform, consisting of Tools/SDK for application development, Windows Azure the compute platform, SQL Azure database, AppFabric for Business Process, Identity Management and now Azure Appliance along with the ability to create Hybrid cloud platforms seems ready to rumble. The fact that they will also have support for bare metal VM shortly will open it up for non-microsoft based application as well.

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