Redmond View

Microsoft Meant Business With Azure in 2013

Nearly four years after launching Windows Azure, Microsoft's cloud service remains stuck in the shadows of Amazon Web Services. However, Microsoft took some key steps in 2013 to deliver a cloud service portfolio that finally seems to make it more viable for mainstream use by IT organizations.

At long last, Microsoft delivered Windows Azure Infrastructure Services earlier this year. It also delivered Windows Azure Active Directory. As Microsoft Cloud and Enterprise Group Executive Vice president Satya Nadella recently remarked, since adding IaaS to the mix, it accounts for 70 percent of Windows Azure usage.

Even if that's from a low baseline, it's a promising ramp. That has to make you wonder where Windows Azure would be if Microsoft had rolled it out years earlier though. Many have argued Microsoft's decision to deliver Windows Azure as a platform as a service (PaaS) only helped Amazon further its already-established IaaS foothold.

The release of Windows Server 2012 R2 with its upgraded Hyper-V, System Center 2012 R2 and the new Windows Azure Pack for Windows Server were also key milestones this year in advancing hybrid clouds. Microsoft cloud shops can now bridge Active Directory Windows Server and the apps running on it to Windows Azure.

Capping off 2013, Microsoft added a backup and recovery service to the Windows Azure portfolio. The company also released Windows Azure HDInsight, the company's cloud-based distribution of Hadoop. This is designed to let organizations process big data.

Microsoft's goal is to make big data available to 1 billion people and HDInight is aimed at enabling that.

Microsoft is still a long way from threatening Amazon, which offers numerous features not yet available with Windows Azure. Google, VMware and providers in the OpenStack community also loom large. However, with the Windows Azure services and Office 365, Microsoft has a competitive cloud stack to build on in 2014. Mission accomplished? That remains to be seen.

About the Author

Jeffrey Schwartz is editor of Redmond magazine and also covers cloud computing for Virtualization Review's Cloud Report. In addition, he writes the Channeling the Cloud column for Redmond Channel Partner. Follow him on Twitter @JeffreySchwartz.

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