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Microsoft Envisions Azure Skies

So that's what Ray Ozzie was working on all this time. At its Professional Developer Conference in L.A. this week, Ozzie and Microsoft took the wraps off of Azure, which Redmond calls an operating system for the cloud.

A what? Yeah, we weren't too sure what that meant, either...and we weren't alone. But the basic idea is that this cloud OS -- of which Steve Ballmer has spoken a few times recently -- will provide a platform for developers who want to create hosted applications. (Really, it seems more like a development platform than an OS...but we digress.) Microsoft will then conveniently host for customers those very applications in its datacenters.

There's more to it than that, of course. Azure also appears to be an attempt to bring on-premises systems into harmony with the cloud, something that tells us two things. First, Microsoft is pragmatic and understands that most companies now have -- and will have for at least a few years to come -- an investment in in-house Microsoft technology. If companies want to dabble in cloud computing now, they're going to do just that -- dabble, rather than shift everything outside of their walls and into the cloud.

Second, though, it tells us that Microsoft doesn't seem quite ready to offer a pure-cloud platform. There seems to be a sense with Azure of cloud-based applications being tethered to traditional, in-house apps, which, again, makes sense because that'll probably be the scenario in which the vast majority of customers will use cloud computing. But the Salesforce.com, pure-SaaS, "no-software" model doesn't appear to be part of Azure or of Microsoft's immediate plans. Now, we could be reading that entirely incorrectly, as we'll admit that this Azure stuff is kind of vague and a bit difficult to understand. From here, though, we don't see Microsoft cutting the cord between cloud and on-premises applications.

What we do see, though, is more potential trouble for Microsoft's hosting partners. RCP the magazine covered this back in September, and today's announcement takes it a step further: It's pretty clear that Microsoft wants to get into the hosting business in a big way. Now, with Azure, it's not just about hosting partner-built apps; it's about bringing customer-developed apps into the equation, as well.

So, again, if you're a hosting partner, now is the time to develop a revenue stream or services business outside of pure application hosting...because Microsoft is all over that market. Azure itself might be kind of confusing, but that point is crystal-clear.

What's your take on Azure? Have you figured out what it is and how it will work? If you decide to play around with it a bit -- it's available in CTP as of today -- please let us know. You know the place: lpender@rcpmag.com.

Posted by Lee Pender on 10/28/2008 at 1:22 PM


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