11.03.2008

Microsoft discovers the cloud

I missed the Microsoft Professional Developer Conference this year, and as part of that, missed the announcement of Windows Azure, Microsoft's cloud platform.

You can read SD Times reporter David Worthington's report on Azure, to catch up on the story.

Azure is a big initiative from Microsoft. Steve Ballmer issued one of the company's rare "Executive Emails" to address the cloud on Oct. 28. You can read the entire document, entitled, "A Platform for the Next Technology Revolution," but here's an important excerpt.

A New Platform for Cloud Computing

At PDC, we announced the availability of an early preview release of a new technology called Windows Azure. Windows Azure will enable developers to build applications that extend from the cloud to the enterprise datacenter and span the PC, the Web, and the mobile phone. For the first time, we shared pre-beta code for Windows 7 and for Windows Server 2008 R2. Windows 7, which is the next version of the Windows desktop operating system, will take advantage of software and hardware advances to help eliminate the boundaries between information, people, and devices.

We also previewed Office Web applications, which are light-weight versions of Word, Excel, PowerPoint, and OneNote that are designed to be accessed through a browser. Office Web applications will be part of the next version of Office and will enable people to view, edit, and share information and collaborate on documents on the desktop, the phone, and in a Web browser in a way that is consistent and familiar.

Windows Azure is part of the Azure Services Platform, a comprehensive set of storage, computing, and networking infrastructure services that reside in Microsoft's network of datacenters. Using the Azure Services Platform, developers will be able to build applications that run in the cloud and extend existing applications to take advantage of cloud-based capabilities. The Azure Services Platform provides the foundation for business and consumer applications that deliver a consistent way for people to store and share information easily and securely in the cloud, and access it on any device from any location.

Windows Azure is not software that companies will run on their own servers. It's something new: a service that runs in Microsoft's growing network of datacenters and provides the platform that helps companies respond to the realities of today's business environment, and tomorrow's. Windows Azure technologies are already finding their way into products such as Windows Server 2008 and System Center Virtual Machine Manager, enabling organizations and Microsoft partners to create their own cloud infrastructure.

Windows Azure will enable organizations to respond to realities such as the need to use the Web to provide customers with comprehensive information and to interact with an audience that has the potential to expand exponentially overnight; to integrate operations with partners-and sometimes even competitors-to meet customer needs; to add new capabilities quickly to respond to new opportunities; and to enable employees to work efficiently and effectively no matter where they are. These realities apply not just to businesses, but to organizations of all kinds: schools, governments, community groups, and more.

Traditional approaches to building technology infrastructure and delivering computing capabilities make it difficult and expensive to adjust to these realities. You need systems with enough capacity to meet the highest possible demand-capacity that includes servers and buildings to house them, the power to run them, and the people to manage them. You have to spread that capacity across locations so there's a backup if one part fails. You have to solve issues like access for different types of users and compliance with tax regulations in all countries where your customers reside.

Designed specifically to meet the global scale that today's organizations require, the Azure Services Platform will provide fundamentally new ways to deploy services and capabilities. It gives businesses the option to take advantage of the capacity available in the cloud as it is needed, reducing the need to make large upfront investments in infrastructure simply to be ready when demand spikes. It will enable developers to create applications that run in the cloud and provide the features, information, and interactivity that employees, partners, and customers expect-no matter how many of them there are, where they are in the world, or what device they have at hand.

The document continues,

Ultimately, the reason to create a cloud services platform is to continue to enhance the value that computing delivers, whether it's by improving productivity, making it easier to communicate with colleagues, or simplifying the way we access information and respond to changing business conditions.

In the world of software plus services and cloud computing, this means extending the definition of personal computing beyond the PC to include the Web and an ever-growing array of devices. Our goal is to make the combination of PCs, mobile devices, and the Web something that is significantly than more the sum of its parts.

The starting point is to recognize the unique value of each part. The value of the PC lies in its computing power, its storage capacity, and its ability to help us be more productive and create and consume rich and complex documents and content.

For the Web, it's the ability to bring together people, information, and services so we can connect, communicate, share, and transact with anyone, anywhere, at any time.

With the mobile phone and other devices, it's the ability to take action spontaneously-to make a call, take a picture, or send a text message in the flow of our activities.

Microsoft wants to own, and provide, every piece of that puzzle. Let's hope that the platforms are open. The company has made good strides in openness lately. We'll see if they can resist the temptation to build lock-in and proprietary protocols into their new "Software + Services" vision.

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Co-founder and editorial director of BZ Media, which publishes SD Times, the leading magazine for the software development industry. Founder of SPTechCon: The SharePoint Technology Conference, AnDevCon: The Android Developer Conference, and Big Data TechCon. Also president and principal analyst of Camden Associates, an IT consulting and analyst firm.