When Microsoft unveiled Azure, its long-awaited cloud computing strategy, at its Professional Developers Conference in Los Angeles Oct. 27, the news largely unfazed show attendees.
High-tech analyst Peter O'Kelly wrote in his Reality Check blog: "A lot of people in the audience, and many in the press/analyst room here, seemed to be looking for something more dramatic/disruptive/etc."
To most who have already lived through the now more than 2-year-old launch of Amazon Web Services, and the release earlier this year of Google's App Engine, the revelation of Microsoft's cloud computing efforts seemed vanilla.
Azure, which exists only in Community Technical Preview, is Microsoft's effort to deliver its applications and infrastructure software as SAAS (software as a service) from within its own data centers. Azure will include versions of Windows Server 2008, Live Services, .NET Services, SQL Services, Microsoft SharePoint Services and Dynamics CRM.
What? You were expecting something more dramatic? Most everyone else was, too. But be realistic. Beyond some poorly marketed Live online collaboration services, Microsoft's cloud computing was a lot of smoke and mirrors. There were hints, allegations and things left unsaid, but now Microsoft's previously cloudy vaporware is becoming more concrete.
Not only will businesses be able to procure Microsoft applications that they formerly had to download and store on their servers and/or PCs, but Microsoft is letting developers build applications in the cloud through .NET.
Microsoft Azure is Amazon Web Services and Google App Engine rolled into one, but on Microsoft Windows, .NET, SQL and the other usual platform architectures programmers either love or hate, or love to hate, depending on their perspective.
Microsoft is essentially enabling companies and programmers to do everything they could do with commodity Microsoft software before, but do it without clogging up their servers and PCs with immense download packages.
The thing to watch, when Azure reaches the market in 2009, will be whether or not companies embrace Azure en masse, which would effectively commoditize the cloud as we currently know it. Gartner analyst Ray Valdes didn't rule this out when he told eWEEK:
""The IT industry is in the early stages of a major transition, one comparable to the shift from mainframe to client/server. Microsoft will play a major role over time because of its tremendous market footprint and technical resources. 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.""
Indeed, bear in mind that while Amazon and Google have made good headway with their cloud computing offerings among Web 2.0 startups, they haven't infiltrated the corporate sector with their cloud platforms. Valdes believes Microsoft's cloud computing value proposition will be effective in keeping these Microsoft-centric organizations from jumping ship.
However, Valdes also cautioned that Microsoft's offerings are not cohesive because of "the wide range and diverse heritage of these different pieces [Active Directory, SQL Server, SharePoint, Silverlight, etc.]."
He believes Microsoft will make steady progress on this front as it moves toward a delivery date for Azure. There are a lot of ifs and buts to answer until that time in 2009. You can be sure neither Amazon nor Google will content themselves with their current cloud concerns.
Amazon just enabled its EC2 to run Microsoft Windows Server and SQL Server, while Google is forever patenting new cloud infrastructure inventions.
Microsoft's Azure announcement, while helping some less excitable folks snooze, will no doubt provide some caffeine to the software giant's Seattle neighbor and Mountain View, Calif., nemesis.