Is Azure a hopeful name? An azure sky implies cloudless, doesn’t it?
No question, Microsoft would like cloud computing to go away. Selling gazillions of copies of Windows and Office, not to mention mere zillions of Windows Server and Server products has been a nice business. This whole cloud idea is ruining their bright, clear, sunny day.
Cloud computing is just too easy for developers. Amazon, Force.com and Google Apps Engine are platforms that are just there, easy to get started. Not to say that Amazon, Salesforce or Google have all the kinks worked out – but they sure have lowered the barrier to entry for a developer looking to build a global-class application on the cheap. The Azure Services Platform is Microsoft’s answer to their loyal .NET developers – they will provide the same low barrier to entry and global-class experience. (By the way, the acronym for the Azure Services Platform is really, really unfortunate.)
That doesn’t mean that Azure has the management ecosystem, the elasticity, the quality of service controls that developers need – but give Azure time. This is a long-term play.
Software as a service and cloud computing is also appealing – within limits – to enterprises. Cloudsourcing commodity software, short-term software and capacity peaks sounds great. Extending desktop apps sounds great. Moving critical business data off-premises is less appealing. Finding that right balance – that’s what most enterprises want. Microsoft’s Software Plus Services strategy is intended to respond to that, providing the spectrum and the hybrid offerings that respond to more conservative enterprise demand – and also retaining as much of Microsoft’s traditional business as possible. This is a pragmatic strategy, and Azure will help Microsoft deliver on it.
But, Azure doesn’t support existing applications – applications need to be targeted originally for Azure. With Azure, sourcing is not a runtime operations decision, it is an application design decision. The software and/or services decision is kinda hardwired at design time, which is unfortunate, and means that enterprises will need to look elsewhere for solutions to cloudsource some of their computing requirements.
But what these enterprises really want is help being more efficient internally. What are the Secrets of Azure (doesn’t that sound alluring? Gotta use that again…) that could help enterprises be more efficient and cloud-like?
What about this new Windows Azure “Cloud Operating System”? Sounds pretty cool to me. The only problem – this isn’t a cloud operating system at all. Windows Azure is just the operating system used on all the servers that are supporting the Azure Services Platform, and it is unclear that there is really anything significantly different at all in this operating system than packaged Windows Server 2008 running Hyper-V virtual machines. The real “cloud OS” is the unnamed “fabric” that does all the neat stuff, like monitoring applications, spinning up new VMs when needed, and detecting failed applications. Whatever that is, please box it and sell me some!
Without a doubt, what Microsoft needs to do is to maintain synergy between Azure and “traditional” Windows computing (Software Plus Services), as well as ensure learnings from Azure make it into the “traditional” Windows computing experience. If Microsoft wants the sky to stay azure, they should give enterprises as much of the cloud experience that they can internally – help them build “private clouds” – but always with the option to slide slowly and easily into the direction of Azure – at least easier than into the arms of Google.