Microsoft's ERP Offerings Drifting to Windows Azure

Microsoft is taking another step in cloud functionality, with the announcement that future Microsoft Dynamics ERP will migrate to the cloud, with hosting on Windows Azure.

Microsoft is unveiling yet another front in its intensive battle for the cloud, with the announcement at its Convergence 2011 conference that the next major releases of the company's enterprise-resource planning applications will be running on the cloud-based Windows Azure platform.

By positioning its Dynamics ERP offerings as a hosted service, Microsoft expands further beyond the on-premises solutions that comprise its traditional stable. The company is also using the Convergence conference in Atlanta to offer a glimpse of Microsoft Dynamics AX 2012, an ERP application whose beta is due this month, followed by a final release expected in August 2011.

Microsoft Dynamics AX 2012 includes Unified Natural Models, a library of business processes for real-world situations, and enhanced business intelligence capabilities for discovering fresh insights in data. The core ERP functions assist in financial, human resources and operations management.

Microsoft claims that its ERP applications due to migrate to the cloud will share the same functionality as the extant on-premises solutions. Microsoft Dynamics Marketplace will serve as a hub for services and cloud-based add-ons designed to help businesses meet their workflow needs.

At Convergence, Microsoft also announced general availability for Microsoft Dynamics SL 2011, its ERP solution for larger SMB (small to midsize business) projects, and that Microsoft Dynamics GP 2010 R2 will be available May 1.

Earlier this year, Microsoft released Dynamics CRM Online, a cloud competitor to similar offerings from the likes of and Oracle. In trying to set its cloud products apart from its rivals' platforms, Microsoft chooses to emphasize how customers who select its cloud option can leverage it in the context of other Microsoft software such as Office-in effect, creating a software-centric competitor to Oracle's tightly integrated hardware-and-software stack. In the case of Dynamics CRM Online, Microsoft claims that integration imbues it with more functionality than, whose own CRM concentrates more on real-time social networking.

In addition to ERP and CRM, Microsoft's other business-cloud initiatives include Office 365, which groups Microsoft Office, SharePoint Online, Exchange Online and Lync Online as a subscription service. Microsoft released Office 365 in limited beta Oct. 19, with general availability expected later this year. Such services also allow Microsoft to compete more heartily in the cloud arena against Google, which is also angling to seize federal and large-enterprise contracts for cloud-based apps.

Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer has insisted for months that his company is "all in" with regard to the cloud. "We have learned a lot through running Windows Live, Hotmail, Bing," he told an audience during a July 12, 2010, keynote address at last summer's Worldwide Partner Conference. "These are some of the highest volume services run on the Internet today. When you run a tightly scaled, highly dynamic service, you need a whole new approach to running a data center."