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Charles Babcock
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Microsoft Pushes Platform As A Service In Cloud

In contrast to Amazon's infrastructure-as-a-service approach, Microsoft is layering Windows tools and services atop an easy-to-build cloud infrastructure.

The Outback Steakhouse chain offers an appetizer, the Bloomin’ Onion, a large Vidalia onion cut to resemble the petals of a flower, dipped in egg batter and deep-fried, then served with a dip. The Bloomin’ Onion has almost as many calories as the fatted calf and, if anything, is more popular.

Outback wanted to promote its restaurants in a way that would encourage visitors in the midst of a recession, but the company lacked a marketing budget late in the year to fund the usual campaign. Instead, Outback created a Facebook application that gave away a coupon for a Bloomin’ Onion in exchange for the email address and zip code of the applicant. By getting the zip code, Outback was able to follow up and offer guidance on the nearest Outback restaurant to the coupon holder.

The application was created and run in Microsoft’s Azure cloud while it was still in technology preview last year during October and November. The Outback marketers were hoping for a low-cost, viral campaign to increase traffic to the restaurants. Once appetites were whetted with the Bloomin’ Onion, customers would be sure to spend. They included a "share this offer with friends on Facebook" button.

The short-term campaign had the goal of distributing 500,000 coupons by the end of 2009. In its fifth week of existence, it passed the 670,000 mark. Prior to the C# and Azure toolkits that Microsoft made available for developing Facebook apps last year, it would have been harder for Outback to quickly create and launch the coupon promotion. With the right tools, an application could be produced quickly and deployed to leverage another cloud application.

“You want to be a marketer, not a racker and stacker or a plumber. In this sort of thing, the cloud can be extremely useful,” said Abraham Pachikara, Microsoft’s U.S. cloud computing adoption lead, in a talk at the Cloud Computing Conference & Expo in Santa Clara, Calif., last week.

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