Today Microsoft announced Windows Azure, their entry into the cloud computing space.
Right now there aren't many details, but it appears Windows Azure is more of an cloud initiative that encompasses several parts including:
- IT infrastructure offered as a service (compute, storage, virtualization)
- Development environment that enables their vast development community to develop distributed applications designed for the cloud (.NET Services)
- Hosted on Microsoft's data center network
Microsoft's message is somewhat similar to VMware's message last September at VMworld. At VMworld, VMware announced their Virtual Data Center Operating System (VDC-OS). VDC-OS isn't an operating system per se, it's more of an initiative to own the server virtualization ecosystem. In that same vein, Windows Azure isn't an operating system in the strictest sense. It's more of an initiative.
What Microsoft is doing is playing to their strength. They are enabling their huge developer community to develop applications for the cloud infrastructure they are hosting within Microsoft's data center network. If you're a developer of a windows application, you certainly want your application to run on Windows Azure. It's almost a no-brainer. It's the same reason developers ported their applications to Windows years ago. Microsoft also plans to customize the experience for mobile, desktop, laptop, etc. Making Azure a client platform play too. Key for them, own the experience and own the customer platform.
On the other hand, Microsoft's strength may hurt in other ways. First, they are hosting Windows Azure within their own data center. This means that Microsoft joins the ranks of Google as a SaaS provider rather than a pure infrastructure play, like VMware's vCloud network. One of Google's perceived weaknesses is the ability to port applications to their cloud. Microsoft is clearly attempting to compete with Google's app engine here. So, to be clear, this isn't a direct move toward competing with VMware from an application development sense.
But, by hosting Azure in the own data center, they will also have to compete with the vast network of other cloud providers out there that are enabled by VMware's vCloud, Amazon's EC2, and Citrix's C3. These clouds are OS agnostic. Customer's may feel more affinity toward them so that they can move their workloads between cloud providers without lock-in. Second, Microsoft is now bearing the cost burden of hosting applications on Azure by building their own data centers. I wonder how well this model scales over time. If Azure takes off, can they build enough space to host all of the applications developers want to host and customers want to use. If Azure doesn't take off, then a big investment in Microsoft data centers is lost. Finally, what about competition. Microsoft competes with developers in the software space. Will Microsoft allow WordPerfect, LotusNotes, GroupWise, or any other software competitor to run on their cloud? Would a competitor want to run on their cloud? It raises the question of whether brand is important to customers for horizontal applications hosted in the cloud as a service (like email). Do customer care that their email service on their mobile phone is exchange or something else?
Should be interesting to watch. Stay tuned.
[posted by: Drue Reeves]