To understand Microsoft's potential in this area, look what's happening at Salesforce.com. The company drew more than 15,000 people to Dreamforce last month, largely due to growing interest in Force.com. Starry-eyed entrepreneurs were there hoping to make money off of apps they've built on Force.com, which are hosted in Salesforce.com's data centers. Demand for this type of thing is growing. I talked to several CIOs who were delighted-bordering on ecstatic-that their IT teams could so quickly develop apps on Force.com.
So here's the deal: The cloud vendor (Salesforce.com) hosts the servers, and already provides the core application logic. Using their programming tools, developers quickly write applications that run on the platform. Then they pay the vendor a monthly fee to use the app for as long as they want to. One example is RehabCare, which built an iPhone app for patient admissions on Force.com within several days.
Microsoft Azure appears to be very similar. The servers, the maintenance, and the core application logic are already there, hosted by Microsoft. If Microsoft does this right, it could be a great alternative to, say, spending months on .Net development of an app that has become obsolete to the business by the time it's finished. And Microsoft's partners, if they're wise, will understand the opportunity here.
This can apply to private clouds, too. If the IT department can act as a cloud service provider, business divisions can react more quickly to apps they need right now. Think of all the potential customer apps with the enormous growth of consumer smart phones. Some of these apps will be experimental. The key is to quickly develop, test it out, and let go of things that don't work.
Fast, cheap, easy. It's exactly what businesses need as they pull out of this recession and fight for market share. Cloud computing as a development platform is mind-numbingly obvious.