Microsoft's week revolved around its Worldwide Partner Conference, which took place in Washington, D.C., July 11-15. The cloud, along with Windows Phone 7, dominated much of the conversation at the event; Microsoft has positioned both as absolutely vital parts of its future strategy.
The WPC is Microsoft's venue for touting the benefits of the company's partner network. Each day of this year's nearly weeklong show began with a high-profile keynote in the city's Verizon Center, after which the nearly 20,000 attendees headed to the nearby Convention Center for tutorials, seminars and an expo.
"We've been shouting about 'O Cloud' at the WPC now for about four years," Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer told the audience gathered to hear his July 12 keynote. "There's no question that Microsoft has chosen to embrace that path together with all of you, and there's no question that there's more to do."
Ballmer suggested that his company's work with its own cloud-based IT infrastructure-used to deliver services such as Bing and Hotmail-informed its development of the cloud services it plans to deliver to businesses. Although the cloud will theoretically remove much of the cost and complexity associated with those businesses' IT departments, for Microsoft it also brings a particular brand of challenge.
"When customers put their data into our system," Ballmer said, "when they entrust more and more of their data and operations to us, there's the need to do a better job on reliability, security, privacy."
But Microsoft also plans to enable businesses to create their own cloud, so to speak, with the newly announced Windows Azure Platform Appliance, a service that brings the capabilities of Microsoft's Windows Azure cloud-development platform into an individual enterprise's data center.
Bob Muglia, president of Microsoft's Server & Tools Business, took the stage after Ballmer to describe the philosophy behind the Appliance. "It's important for our partners to build their own public and private clouds within their data center," he said. "[Windows Azure Platform Appliance] is a service coming from Microsoft and run in your own data center ... that you then run on hardware you own or have rented within our own data center." All capabilities of Windows Azure, apparently, will run via the Appliance.
Muglia compared the Appliance to a set-top box for either cable or satellite television. "When you have your television, you are getting a service through your television provider," he said. "You turn on the TV, and it works. But you control which channels you want to watch, and so on. That's exactly what we're doing with the Windows Azure client."
While Amazon.com offers infrastructure as a service and companies such as Salesforce.com offer software as a service, Microsoft is apparently pursuing what Muglia termed "IT as a service"-via a combination of Windows Azure and other cloud-based products that fulfill multiple functions within the enterprise.