Microsoft Stakes Its Place In The Cloud - InformationWeek

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Microsoft Stakes Its Place In The Cloud

Microsoft lays out concrete plans for cloud computing, but this vision doesn't come with a delivery date.

Still, Microsoft offers developers some compelling details. It can leverage a massive installed base and a large following of developers skilled in writing apps for Windows. It has enterprise credibility, more than can be said for Amazon and Google. And it's spending billions of dollars on new data centers, which Deborah Chrapathy, Microsoft's global foundation services VP, says are built to handle "hundreds of petabytes of data reliably on a regular basis."

Microsoft also will make individual Azure Services Platform components available separately from Azure itself and from one another, letting developers use pieces of Azure to build component apps. "It's not a monolithic platform," says Amitabh Srivastava, Microsoft's cloud infrastructure services VP.

Azure relies on standard Web protocols like REST and Atom to make it easier to interconnect with other systems. Initially, developers will be able to write only .Net applications in Visual Studio and upload them to Azure, but Microsoft says Eclipse support and the ability to run Ruby and Python applications will come later.

At the lowest level, Azure is a multitenant, distributed operating system where people can run apps and store data. One level up, Microsoft plans to offer associated services. SQL Services will offer some database features, eventually including the ability to host a relational database in the cloud. .Net Services will offer access control, workflow logic, and a service bus. The Live Framework includes data synchronization via Live Mesh and a development platform in the Live Operating Environment and APIs.

Microsoft also envisions a new way to federate identity between Live ID and Active Directory. Companies would download a small piece of software called the Services Connector that would let Live ID recognize employee e-mail addresses when they log on to a cloud service, and validate the addresses and passwords against a company's on-premises directory. Companies could give partners and customers access through Live ID instead of adding them to the company directory. Microsoft and other vendors need to make it easy to connect to the cloud, and features like federated identity help.

Amitabh Srivastava -- Photo by Michael Dunn

Microsoft's cloud isn't a monolith, says Srivastava, one of its developers

Photo by Michael Dunn
Microsoft plans to run its existing SaaS applications--including Exchange Online, SharePoint Online, and CRM Online--on Azure. Those apps are the hardest evidence Microsoft is moving beyond on-premises software; Office chief Chris Capossela predicts that 50% of Exchange mailboxes will be online within five years.

But an online version of Office will be the biggest test of Microsoft's commitment to the cloud. Ozzie says it's built on the premise that, for two people to collaborate, they don't need to know if the other is on a Web, desktop client, or mobile client version of Office. "That was a very significant pivot very early on," he says. The collaboration features will use Microsoft's Live Mesh to synchronize content.

Microsoft also intends to develop apps specifically around Azure. A project called "Atlanta" would connect to an on-premises System Center deployment, transmit data back to Azure and SQL Services for analysis and anonymous comparison with other users, then present scorecard data via a portal.

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