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.
The cloud computing party may just be getting started, but Microsoft's fashionably late.

It has taken Amazon two years of testing to remove the beta label from its Linux-based Elastic Compute Cloud utility computing service, a step the company took two weeks ago. With that, Amazon introduced an EC2 service-level agreement, which it already had on its Simple Storage Service. And it began a beta test of EC2 on Windows, beating Windows Azure to the punch. Amazon doesn't yet offer the plethora of identity, database, and .Net services that Microsoft's promising. But it has real cloud products and counts National Geographic, Nasdaq, and Eli Lilly among its customers.

Google's slate of Web services includes productivity and collaboration applications in Google Apps and a cloud platform in Google App Engine. More than 1 million businesses have signed up for Google Apps, but many of those hang onto Office. The city of Washington, D.C., for example, offers Google Apps to all employees, but they can use Outlook and Office as well. "I don't necessarily see this supplanting Microsoft," says D.C. CTO Vivek Kundra, who's generally gung ho about Google Apps. "There's a place in the enterprise for Office."

Salesforce's platform as a service is today focused almost exclusively on add-ons to its CRM service. Only a few companies, such as startup Appirio, are building apps on not tied to Salesforce CRM.

IBM's Blue Cloud utility computing platform runs Linux and soon System z mainframe apps and uses IBM Tivoli for management and monitoring. Customers include the European Union and a "very large U.S.-based investment bank" that runs a risk management app on the platform. IBM also offers some collaboration apps as services, from Bluehouse social networking to Lotus Notes e-mail.

Other vendors are moving into the cloud, including hosting company Rackspace and a few dozen startups. So Microsoft needs to pick up the pace of development. As cloud computing becomes a real service option for more companies, its customers will require more than the grand plan; they'll need the details that make it real.

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