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Microsoft steams into services era with Azure

Company says OS, platform set table for next 50 years of computing

By , Network World
October 30, 2008 03:07 PM ET

Network World - LOS ANGELES -- Claiming to set the stage for the next 50 years of computing, Microsoft this week unveiled a cloud operating system and a complementary slate of developer resources that will become the core of its services platform and provide an online delivery option for all its current software.

The Azure Service Platform, which includes the cloud operating system called Windows Azure, defines the scalable back end that will support the services portion of Microsoft's software-plus-services strategy, which it has been laying out in bits and pieces over the past three years.

The platform is the coming-to-life of the well-known Internet Services Disruption memo that Ray Ozzie penned three years ago (and recalls in a recent interview) before becoming Microsoft's chief software architect. The memo laid out how Microsoft needed to embrace software plus services to remain relevant.

The Azure platform, which has at its core a highly tuned operating system two years in the making, is no less than Microsoft's largest bet yet to achieve that relevancy as it moves into a market already active with cloud environments from Amazon, Google, IBM and others.

"[Azure is] designed to be the foundation, the bedrock underneath all of Microsoft's service offerings for consumers and business alike," Ozzie said last week when introducing Windows Azure at the company's annual Professional Developers Conference (PDC). "The systems that we're building right now for cloud-based computing are setting the stage for the next 50 years of systems, both outside and inside the enterprise."

Ozzie showed a confidence and energy rarely seen in his public appearances as he tried to engage the developers Microsoft needs to woo to make the Azure services effort successful.

The Azure platform finally provides the confluence point for a number of loosely related cloud technologies Microsoft has been developing, including Live Mesh, the Identity MetaSystem and Microsoft Online Services.

Those infrastructure and application services, which complement the Azure operating system, will hook onto the Azure platform to enrich its development environment and provide core services to online applications.

Microsoft's effort, however, is not without major challenges. The Azure Services Platform is a work in progress and only at the preview stage; the platform is initially tied predominantly to Microsoft's technologies although it is promising openness; and Microsoft has to succeed in wooing an army of developers to embrace it.

"The approach to the Azure Services Platform follows a well-known pattern; coming late to the party, Microsoft must make up now by enticing developers to embrace this new platform and creating the 'killer-apps' needed to make Azure a success," said Felix Gaehtgens, a senior analyst at Kuppinger Cole.

"There are currently very few established dominant vendors in this space, and whilst some customers are experimenting, very few businesses have already bet the farm on a specific cloud platform. Microsoft has a history of being able to turn the ship around and catching up quickly when it wants to."

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