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10/28/2008
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Rajan Chandras
Rajan Chandras
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Microsofts Cloud Vision: Not Quite 'Azure'

Microsoft has introduced Azure, a cloud computing platform. Interesting, but what does it comprise, and what is Microsoft offering that isn't already out there from the likes of Amazon and Google?... For the multitude of Microsoft developers out there, this is great news. For others, though, Azure is yesterday's news

Microsoft has introduced Azure, a cloud computing platform. Interesting, but what does it comprise, and what is Microsoft offering that isn't already out there from the likes of Amazon and Google?

The Microsoft Azure Services Platform consists primarily of Windows Azure, together with Microsoft.Net, SQL and Microsoft Live Services, to be followed in the (presumably near) future by SharePoint and Microsoft Dynamics CRM services. Windows Azure is Microsoft's vision of a "cloud services operating system," and will serve as a platform for solution development (by Microsoft customers), service hosting (by Microsoft) and service management (by Microsoft and customers both). Windows Azure, Microsoft assures us, is intended to be "an open platform that will support both Microsoft and non-Microsoft languages and environments" - for now, however, only .Net-managed applications built using Visual Studio will be supported.At first sight, it is difficult to see what makes Ray Ozzie, Microsoft chief software architect, call this a "game-changing set of technologies." On-demand cloud computing; flexible, pay-as-you-go options; support for pure cloud or mixed-mode solutions; scalability, load balancing, fault tolerance, disaster recovery; support for HTTP, REST and SOAP - all pretty standard stuff. Database services through Microsoft SQL Service? Been there, done that. On-demand CRM? Ask SalesForce.com. The .Net platform? Nice to have… if it weren't mandatory.

Where's the "game changing," and where's the competitive edge?

Some six months ago, I wrote a short article on Microsoft's foray into cloud computing, through Microsoft SQL Services Data Services (SSDS). As I observed at the time, "SSDS is only the tip of the iceberg of what Microsoft could offer. Given its development portfolio, Microsoft could go beyond a full-service database solution - in itself a significant offering - into areas such as dashboards in the cloud or, throwing BizTalk into the mix, Processes as a Service."

Azure doesn't go quite as far as that but is a step in exactly that direction.

On one hand, Azure offers the promise of all that Microsoft can offer in cloud computing, and for the multitude of Microsoft developers out there, this is great news. For others, though, Azure is yesterday's news: there is nothing novel in being able to build an application that uses a database, and host/manage it in the cloud - Amazon, Google, SalesForce.com etc. are old hands at this. Furthermore, requiring it to be a .Net managed application only serves to weaken the appeal (but then again, where would a Microsoft offering be without .Net?)

In short, game-changing, today, Azure is not. However, as portent of the future (a "needless tautology"?), this is exciting enough. Consider Azure as the second big step in Microsoft's "extreme make-over," and an important step forward for Microsoft customers.Microsoft has introduced Azure, a cloud computing platform. Interesting, but what does it comprise, and what is Microsoft offering that isn't already out there from the likes of Amazon and Google?... For the multitude of Microsoft developers out there, this is great news. For others, though, Azure is yesterday's news

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