This is an experiment. I’m posting a draft of a Gartner First Take with the idea that we can collect feedback from my internal colleagues as well as from vendors and users. We are trying to determine if we can evolve our processes to be more completely open and transparent than they already are. At the end of the experiment in 24 hours, I will finalize and put through our normal publishing process. I hope this will be a useful experiment – please offer your comments and suggestions.
Authors: David Mitchell Smith and Neil MacDonald
On Oct. 27 2008 at its US Professional Developer’s Conference, Microsoft announced its Cloud platform and services, named Windows Azure and the Azure Services Platform. Microsoft’s offerings are initially hosted only in Microsoft data centers and provide operating system–like services and a set of developer services that can be used individually or together. At the event, Microsoft outlined its cloud platform strategy and provided early access to many of the services along with SDKs. Its offerings span many layers within what Gartner calls cloud/web platforms. Our research identifies several layers of functionality ranging from system infrastructure to business process. Microsoft’s offerings include:
- System infrastructure services: Windows Azure – A “Cloud OS” that provides raw compute, storage and service management services. Windows Azure is essentially a modified version of Windows Server 2008 and a modified version of Hyper-V supplemented with cross-system “Fabric” software designed to host and scale cloud-based applications and services and to provide compute and storage as a service competing with Amazon EC2 and others.
- Application infrastructure services: Windows Azure services including .NET, live (including liveid), and Sharepoint and Dynamics CRM (codenamed “Titan”). These join renamed Biztalk services and expanded SQL services). Microsoft refers to these as Windows Azure Services and they compete more at the level of offerings such as force.com (from salesforce.com) and Google’s App Engine.
- Application services: This layer features applications and services that are designed to be directly consumed by people – such as Windows Live, Office Live Workspaces, Exchange Online, SharePoint Online and Microsoft Dynamics CRM Online. Microsoft refers to these as “Finished applications” that will be built on the Azure Services Platform.
These offerings will be available in “shipping” versions at various times throughout the next 1-2 years.
It also provided early access to Windows 7 (expected in 2H09), and gave more information on additional user experience technologies such as Silverlight, IE and Windows Mobile. The UX functionality is part of Gartner’s view of Cloud/Web platforms as not limited to back-end only environments.
The announcements demonstrated the choice provided by its software+services (S+S) strategy. All demonstrated the choice in the deployment dimension (on and off premises) and in user experience (rich client to browser client to mobile devices). It is visionary and pragmatic and takes into account not only the investments Microsoft has but also those of enterprises and consumers.
Some of the bigger challenges Microsoft faces are:
Fragmentation: even at the application infrastructure services layer, there are in effect multiple platforms: Live for consumer apps, .NET (including some existing services) for enterprise apps, Sharepoint and Dynamics CRM for other types of applications.
Potential credibility in demonstrating use. In addition to the fragmentation/specialization at the application infrastructure layer, Microsoft will face a challenge in demonstrating use of its underlying technology. Much of Microsoft’s platform success has been as a result of the company demonstrating its commitment to its underlying technologies and demonstrating the possibilities created by the platform. It has historically done this by writing its own applications to make use of its platforms. While Microsoft’s cloud apps (BPOS, OLW, etc) do use underlying Microsoft technologies, they do not currently use the system infrastructure services (especially compute services) and the services enabling apps to be ‘enlightened’ so that they can scale and be managed by the lower levels. Given the limited details available today, it is not clear if these types of applications would be better implemented in this way. This leads to a broader discussion about the applicability of various layers and degree of granularity of access.
Gartner believes that the technologies underlying Dynamics CRM (code named Titan) represent a significant opportunity for Microsoft. Thus far, little emphasis has been placed on this technology, which has potential to be a mainstream offering that will compete with SFDC’s force.com platform at what Gartner calls aPaas, a type of cloud/web platform application infrastructure service. In fact, Titan represents the only tool/off the shelf technology as part of Windows Azure that actually helps facilitate the building of multitenant apps. Larger questions remain about the specific applicability of multitenant app servers and Microsoft apparently has not made final decisions as of yet. However, “Titan” does represent a potential under invested, under marketed alternative to more complications, comprehensive approaches.
Gartner believes that Microsoft does not want to be the main provider of computing to the world. While it does want to be a main provider of software and continue its existing business models as much as it can, while seeding additional ones such as advertising, it must maintain good relationships with third parties as it moves in this direction. It must bring ISVs and hosters along. ISVs need to be shown incentives to make the investments needed to move their applications to microsoft’s cloud. Hosters need to see the business models and opportunities provided for them.
Leveraging Hybrid environments and bringing cloud technologies to the enterprise, as well as enterprise technologies to the cloud. Most vendors are bringing enterprise tech (eg virtualization) to cloud and cloud-like environments. Microsoft is doing this as well as bringing cloud approaches into enterprises. Cloud leaders such as google and sfdc may provide good pure cloud solutions, but are not attempting to bring the actual technologies into a hybrid environment.
A mixed environment will be the norm for most enterprises for many years. A hybrid environment will make that mixed environment much more flexible and allow movement more easily between on and off premises implementations.
The programming models will leverage skills in languages across environments as well as metadata. This should appeal to businesses with such investments and interest in hybrid environments.
Bottom line: Azure represents a very ambitious vision and roadmap for Microsoft. There are no shortages of balancing acts for Microsoft here: consumer and enterprise, internal and external, hosted by Microsoft and hosted by partners, rich applications and increasingly rich Internet applications, development and deployment. No other vendor is attempting to deal with the cloud in all these dimensions. the key will be execution. It will not happen overnight.
- Windows Azure and the Azure Services Platform at this point are a technology preview, not a shipping product. Don’t expect a production-ready release of Azure and applications that support it until YE2009.
- .Net developers – experiment today. Short term, explore how on-premises applications could be improved with the use of cloud-based application services (such as the .Net service bus). Longer term, look for transformation use of cloud-native applications.
- However, Exchange hosted services and SP hosted services will be available this year, are not dependent on the Azure Services Platform and offer the potential for significant cost savings for enterprises today.
- For support of existing workloads, consider Amazon EC2 and similar services. Pressure Microsoft to support existing Windows applications through Azure-hosted VMs or via partners.