Can Microsoft Compete in the Cloud?

By Nicholas Kolakowski  |  Posted 2009-12-15 Print this article Print


Once Azure has been fully switched on, the question will become how well Microsoft's cloud offering can compete against those from Amazon and Google.

"Microsoft will play a major role over time because of its tremendous market footprint and technical resources," Gartner analyst Ray Valdes told eWEEK when the platform was first unveiled in 2008. "There are many enterprises that consider themselves Microsoft shops that have people that only know Microsoft tools and APIs... Amazon and Google have been chipping away at these, but Microsoft is firmly entrenched."

But the rewards may well be worth the potential risk: another Gartner report suggested that cloud services represent a potential $150 billion opportunity within the marketplace.

In March, the early test release of the cloud platform experienced a 22-hour outage, during which users received messages describing applications as "stopped" or "initializing." Azure relies on a worldwide network of distributed data centers to deliver applications to users, although Microsoft signaled in August that it would migrate Azure functionality from its northwest data center due to "a change in local tax laws."

As that market grows, Microsoft is planning a number of cloud-based initiatives and programs, including Windows Server 2008 R2 Hyper-V virtual machine support on Azure, as well as Microsoft Pinpoint Marketplace, which lets partners market and sell applications. The RTM of Windows Identity Foundation will allow developers to provide simplified user access to both cloud and on-premises applications.

But Microsoft will also integrate cloud functionality into many of its traditionally desktop-bound offerings. 

Browser accessible versions of OneNote, Excel, Word and PowerPoint will be made available for free through the cloud to Windows Live subscribers, although those wanting the full functionality of the upcoming Office 2010 will still need to purchase the full version. This step seems tailored by Microsoft to counteract a rising threat from cloud-based productivity suites such as Google Apps, which have the potential to chew Redmond's market share.

An eWEEK review of the Office Web Apps Technical Preview can be found here. Microsoft describes the Web suite's functionality in its current form as "modest."

Microsoft's current forays into cloud computing, though, give no clue about how Redmond will deal with integrating cloud into future versions of its other desktop-based platforms, most notably Windows, as cloud becomes increasingly prevalent in coming years. Google will release its browser-based Chrome OS, initially meant for netbooks, by late 2010, but how that may affect the development of Windows 8 remains to be seen.

Nicholas Kolakowski is a staff editor at eWEEK, covering Microsoft and other companies in the enterprise space, as well as evolving technology such as tablet PCs. His work has appeared in The Washington Post, Playboy, WebMD, AARP the Magazine, AutoWeek, Washington City Paper, Trader Monthly, and Private Air. He lives in Brooklyn, New York.

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