If any technology company has had its cloud strategy questioned, it's Microsoft. Now, after a couple of years of putting the pieces into place, Microsoft is showing progress.
Some vendors envision a future where most, if not all, IT resources come from the cloud, but Microsoft isn't one of them. Its grand plan is to provide "symmetry between enterprise-based software, partner-hosted services, and services in the cloud," chief software architect Ray Ozzie said a few months ago. More simply, Microsoft calls it "software plus services."
Microsoft's first SaaS offerings for business, rolling out this year, are Dynamics CRM Online, Exchange Online, Office Communications Online, and SharePoint Online. Each will be available in a multitenant version, generally for small and midsize businesses, and a single-tenant version for companies requiring 5,000 or more licenses. For consumers, Microsoft's online services include Windows Live, Office Live, and Xbox Live.
A handful of large companies--Autodesk, Blockbuster, Energizer, and Ingersoll-Rand among them--are early adopters. Anyone who doubts that Microsoft has entered the cloud services game should consider this: Coca-Cola plans to subscribe to 30,000 seats of Microsoft-hosted Exchange and SharePoint by next year.
Microsoft senior VP Chris Capossela says customers can mix and match hosted and on-premises versions of its software, an attractive option for companies with branch offices that lack IT staff. Microsoft hasn't disclosed pricing for its online services, but Capossela says it's naive to think that cloud services will be cheaper than on-premises software over the long haul. "You're going to pay forever," he says. "It's a subscription, for goodness' sake."
What's next? A project called MatrixDB would extend on-premises SQL Server databases to Microsoft-hosted databases in the cloud. That's still a couple of years away, but it hints at future possibilities. And Microsoft points to BizTalk Services, its hosted business process management software, as one element in a forthcoming "Internet service bus" that functions like an enterprise service bus, albeit online.
As for the Windows operating system, Microsoft's upcoming synchronization platform, Live Mesh, and some of the Windows Live services will be more tightly integrated with it.
The shift to cloud services has forced Microsoft to rethink not just the way its products are architected, but its data center strategy, too. For years, Microsoft leased its major data centers, but it has now begun to design, construct, and own them, with U.S. facilities recently completed or under construction in Illinois, Texas, and Washington, and another under way in Dublin, Ireland.