Can Amazon Reign over Microsoft's Cloud?

 
 
By Darryl K.  |  Posted 2008-10-02
 
 
 

Amazon announces plans to support Windows Server and SQL Server on its Elastic Compute Cloud (EC2) in what amounts to a preemptive attack at Microsoft's soon-to-be-announced cloud platform. Amazon.com announced it will be supporting Windows Server and SQL Server on its Amazon EC2 (Elastic Compute Cloud) as the closed-mouthed company just keeps on rolling along, business as usual. Meanwhile, Microsoft is gearing up to make a big cloud announcement of its own later in October.

Some say the Amazon.com news was a preemptive strike at Microsoft before the software giant's Professional Developers Conference at the end of October. They've got that right. In fact it's not the first and it will not be the last Amazon aims at its Seattle-area competitor as Microsoft moves into its space. Everything Amazon has done with Oracle, Red Hat, Sun/MySQL and others has been in preparation for competition from Microsoft. Amazon has no horse of its own in the platform or operating system race. So look for more such strikes at Microsoft as Microsoft unveils more of its plans at PDC and beyond.

In an advisory on Oct. 1, Amazon.com said:

Starting later this fall, Amazon Elastic Compute Cloud (Amazon EC2) will offer you the ability to run Microsoft Windows Server or Microsoft SQL Server. Today, you can choose from a variety of Unix-based operating systems, and soon you will be able to configure your instances to run the Windows Server operating system. In addition, you will be able to use SQL Server as another option within Amazon EC2 for running relational databases.

Amazon EC2 running Windows Server or SQL Server provides an ideal environment for deploying ASP.NET web sites, high performance computing clusters, media transcoding solutions, and many other Windows-based applications. By choosing Amazon EC2 as the deployment environment for your Windows-based applications, you will be able to take advantage of Amazon's proven scalability and reliability, as well as the cost-effective, pay-as-you-go pricing model offered by Amazon Web Services.

Basically, regarding the cloud, Amazon is saying to Microsoft: "Anything you can do, we can do better." And it's true, for now; maybe for a long time. But Microsoft is going to dwarf Amazon in terms of funding and human capital applied to the issue. And Microsoft will rely heavily on its platform strength, its brand name and track record in tooling, and its enterprise sales and support infrastructure to make up a ton of ground. In short, Microsoft is going to "keep coming, and coming and coming," as company CEO Steve Ballmer likes to say of how Microsoft reacts when it is behind in a market.

In an interview with eWEEK over the summer, John Shewchuk, a Microsoft Technical Fellow working on the company's efforts in the cloud space, said:

"We're probably one of the biggest acquirers of data center space around the world. I think you've probably seen these statistics. There's Google, there's Microsoft, Amazon to a degree, but really we're making a massive, massive, massive investment in having the computational capabilities, the Internet connectivity capabilities, and the geopresence to be a leader in that business."

Most of all, Microsoft's presence in the space will legitimize it for everybody else, much as the company did for the ALM (application lifecycle management) space with its delivery of Visual Studio Team System a few years ago. Indeed, "legitimize" may be the wrong term because IBM Rational certainly had legitimate technology in the ALM space, but Microsoft helped bring the segment more to the fore. And it's likely to do so as well with cloud computing and to help customers see the viability of it -- in terms of security, reliability, performance, quality of service, etc.

I found it enlightening to meet Mike Culver, a Web services evangelist for Amazon, at the VSLive New York conference recently. Culver, already a quite likeable, nice guy, seemed to wear a continuous grin on his face. Part of that might have been that he was getting away with preaching the Amazon gospel at a Microsoft-oriented event. And the other part was likely that, as he said in one of his talks, "We were really surprised that we were able to take off as fast as we did and maintain our lead."

Well, they aren't surprised anymore. And they've put their stake in the ground. Culver basically said Amazon wants to provide the best possible infrastructure at the best price. Also, Amazon recently announced its plans to create a CDN (content delivery network).

Competition is lining up for Amazon. The industry is aligned along storage and compute power providers, middleware services, application services, end-user services, and tools. Arguably, Amazon owns the storage and compute power infrastructure piece right now, Microsoft owns the tools and middleware, Google owns the application services, and a host of companies, including EMC for enterprise, Apple and Amazon for consumer, and Microsoft with its emerging Live Mesh platform, own the rest.

Some of Amazon's competitors, namely Microsoft, will be promoting not only the cloud, but also "cloudbursting," or encouraging enterprises to extend their infrastructure into the cloud when needed, but to use their own infrastructure exclusively when they don't need the excess capacity. This fits right in with Microsoft's "Software + Services" strategy, but is antithetical to Amazon's approach.

Moreover, Microsoft also will promote the use of private clouds. In an interview at Microsoft's Redmond, Wash., headquarters, Robert Wahbe, corporate vice president of the company's Connected Systems Division, said Microsoft will "Make it easier [for you] to build your own cloud. We're also going to build a cloud for you ... that makes it even easier, because it's all there configured for you. And we're running the servers and we're making sure the power and pipes stay up, and we're making sure it's geoscaled if you need it to be geoscaled, in other words multiple data centers."

Amazon is clearly intent on increasing customer comfort with the cloud and counting on its customer success stories to help with that. And, again, Microsoft's presence is likely to boost that comfort level even more for a different set of customers.

Meanwhile, in its brief announcement, Amazon also said:

Our goal is to support any and all of the programming models, operating systems and database servers that you need for building applications on our cloud computing platform. The ability to run a Windows environment within Amazon EC2 has been one of our most requested features, and we are excited to be able to provide this capability. We are currently operating a private beta of Amazon EC2 running Windows Server and SQL Server. Please go to http://aws.amazon.com/windows if you are interested in being notified later this fall when the offering is released broadly.

With Microsoft's PDC right around the corner, I'd predict that release to be sooner rather than later.

In a separate announcement, 3Tera announced the beta availability of AppLogic 2.4, which includes support for virtual appliances running Microsoft Windows Server incorporated in all infrastructure components necessary to run Web applications, including storage, networking and load balancing.

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