Microsoft Shows It Can Play Catch-Up Ball in the Cloud

By Eric Lundquist  |  Posted 2013-06-05

Microsoft Shows It Can Play Catch-Up Ball in the Cloud

NEW ORLEANS—The major innovation Microsoft has brought to the technology business is the ability to play a good game of catch-up ball. From graphic interfaces to email to Web browsers to the entire Internet, the company too often sits out the first innings of big technology shifts, sputters about in the middle innings and finally, finally gets its act together before game's end.

While late-innings closers are much valued in baseball and sales, being known as the catch-up king has never won plaudits in the tech space, where being first is valued more than being right.

The TechEd event here showed Microsoft at its best in finally aligning the big trends in cloud computing with the needs of its existing customers and coming up with a package of products and services for the cloud computing era. I'll run through some of the main product introductions, but first to the big vision.

"Consistency" was the word heard time and again to describe the strategy behind the coupling of on-premise and cloud-based infrastructures. The idea, which would be instantly apparent to any non-techie, is to provide a seamless experience for users and administrators wherever the computing resources reside.

You might think this is simple, but it isn't. The current state of the art has tech administrators shuttling between four to five consoles as they juggle on-premise resources and various cloud providers. That juggling and trying to balance and secure resources are what make the concept of hybrid on-premise computing infrastructure coupled to off- premise cloud resources attractive yet largely unreachable. Ending this cloud console shuttle is a major goal of many tech vendors, but Microsoft has taken the mission to heart with the greatest fervor.

"Enterprises want a consistent user experience," said Eric Winner, Microsoft's lead program manager, in a presentation on the new tools being offered by the company. Winner's presentation was offering a more detailed look at the features championed by Brad Anderson, Microsoft's corporate vice president of the $19 billion Windows server and system center division, in his keynote. In that keynote, Anderson said, "Consistency across clouds is one of the things you should absolutely add to the top of your list as you're looking at your cloud decisions."

The concept behind the consistency is to use the Microsoft Azure cloud model as the fulcrum for companies to take the same tools and skills used in building internal tech infrastructures to create a seamless experience with hybrid and public cloud providers.

For example, the company released the Azure Pack integrated with Microsoft System Center and Windows Server to offer the Azure cloud type experience to internal data center operations. It is all part of the company's cloud OS plan to build a consistent experience. Windows Server 2012 R2, System Center 2012 R2 and SQL Server 2014 are all key elements of the evolving Microsoft cloud OS mission.

Microsoft Shows It Can Play Catch-Up Ball in the Cloud

The ability to use the Windows infrastructure skills to build a path to the corporate cloud was an important, and much needed, message for the attendees at TechEd. Enterprise IT professionals face two challenges—being left behind or left out—in corporate cloud deployments. The ability to build an overarching cloud migration that carries older skills forward while bringing the scale, flexibility and cost benefits of cloud computing to the corporation allows the techies to regain a central position in their company's technology plans.

So, what is next for Microsoft? Delivering the products and upgrades championed here at TechEd is at the top of the list. The company must deliver these systems not only from a technology perspective, but also from a business perspective.

The company has to figure out how to price the upgrades (there's no free rides on these upgrades) in an era when computing is sold as service and older notions around limiting the number of users or compute capacity are increasingly outdated, and issues around legal liabilities for cloud contracts can make or break a deal.

Anderson said the pricing will be available in July. Next on the list is education and resources for technology professionals to get comfortable with building out this computing-consistent environment. The demos at TechEd were fun to watch but were not examples of shipping products ready for corporate deployment.

In an interview, Anderson said cloud computing is still in a very early stage. That may be, but competitors—notably Amazon—are redefining the rules of corporate computing. Low margins coupled with rapid feature releases pushed out into the cloud is a new game not just for Microsoft but also for industry competitors such as Oracle and IBM as well as for customers used to a more stately pace of product development.

Microsoft at TechEd displayed an impressive capability and determination to play catch-up in the cloud computing marketplace. But it will be the company's ability to maintain pace and outpace their competition that will determine its success.

Eric Lundquist is a technology analyst at Ziff Brothers Investments, a private investment firm. Lundquist, who was editor-in-chief at eWEEK (previously PC WEEK) from 1996-2008, authored this article for eWEEK to share his thoughts on technology, products and services. No investment advice is offered in this article. All duties are disclaimed. Lundquist works separately for a private investment firm which may at any time invest in companies whose products are discussed in this article and no disclosure of securities transactions will be made.


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