It will offer a very public test of Microsoft's Azure cloud, and it will test Steve Ballmer's goal to "shoot ahead of what customers think they're interested in today."

Chris Murphy, Editor, InformationWeek

April 7, 2011

3 Min Read

Toyota and Microsoft will build applications in Azure, which is Microsoft’s online development- and infrastructure-as-a-service platform. That means Toyota will pay for computing based on usage, won't have to use its own data centers around the world to deliver services, and will have scalable capacity without having to buy a lot of excess servers. Ballmer said it'll help Toyota launch services in emerging markets without having to add data center capacity.

But what will get really interesting about the Azure platform is who else Toyota lets onto it.

When I asked if Azure allowed anything new that wasn't possible without a cloud platform, Ballmer said (after first saying "everything's always possible with software") that it should make it easier to combine data streams from multiple sources. If a driver's really going to tell her car to charge overnight when the rates are lowest, that'll take combining data from the car with a data stream of electricity prices coming in from an energy company. That integration would happen in Azure.

Neither executive used these words, but in theory the Azure platform also could become something like an app store for a Toyota vehicle, letting third-party developers innovate software for the vehicles, if Toyota allows them.

Ballmer said the focus right now is to get the platform for delivering apps to the vehicle right. "If you look at the partnership, we're working on an enabling technology for Toyota Media Service to build a wide range of telematics," Ballmer said. "So getting the platform right opens up possibilities certainly to Toyota, to Microsoft, but also as Mr. Toyoda had a chance to say, also to other companies whom Toyota may choose to work in partnership with."

Microsoft already has a big stake in the auto business with the Sync platform, which Ford has made a major element of its marketing strategy. Sync, built on Windows Embedded software, is an in-vehicle software system that lets people connect their phones and music players to the vehicle, providing features such as voice-activated controls to answer calls, hear messages, and search for music.

Ballmer said its effort with Toyota is different because it's a cloud-based platform for delivering data to and from the vehicle--which could be to the car's in-dash navigation system, to a phone that's inside the car, or out to a PC or data center outside the vehicle.

This deal won't turn on the initial apps that Toyoda and Ballmer laid out this week. An app to monitor and control the charging of an electric or plug-in hybrid vehicle will be the bare minimum needed to bring those vehicles to market in 2012. To really succeed, the partnership needs to do what Mr. Toyoda describes: Make cars and trucks more valuable to their drivers by turning them into "information terminals."

Recommended Reading: IT Must Create Products, Not Just Cut Costs Global CIO: Why BMW Suddenly Loves Mobile Apps Global CIO: Will CIOs Sit Out The Opportunity of A Lifetime? Global CIO: Why GM's Volt Electric Car Needs An iPhone App Microsoft's Cloud Plan: What's In It For You? Global CIO: The Case For Copying Apple's App Store Mercedes Revs iPad Tool For Dealers Global CIO: How Lands' End's CIO Made The Case For Cloud IT Is Too Darn Slow Global CIO: Steve Ballmer Interview: 'Hockey Stick' Cloud Growth Ahead Outlook 2011: 4 Key Trends From Our Data

InformationWeek: April 25, 2011 Issue

InformationWeek: April 25, 2011 Issue

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About the Author(s)

Chris Murphy

Editor, InformationWeek

Chris Murphy is editor of InformationWeek and co-chair of the InformationWeek Conference. He has been covering technology leadership and CIO strategy issues for InformationWeek since 1999. Before that, he was editor of the Budapest Business Journal, a business newspaper in Hungary; and a daily newspaper reporter in Michigan, where he covered everything from crime to the car industry. Murphy studied economics and journalism at Michigan State University, has an M.B.A. from the University of Virginia, and has passed the Chartered Financial Analyst (CFA) exams.

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