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Microsoft TechEd event to shed light on cloud computing plans

Analysts hope for more details on Windows Azure

By , Network World
June 03, 2010 05:45 PM ET

Network World - Microsoft will shed more light on its cloud computing strategy next week at the annual TechEd conference in New Orleans.

While Microsoft's specific TechEd announcements haven't yet been revealed, some analysts are hoping for details about Windows Azure, Microsoft's answer to Amazon's popular EC2 cloud platform.

Google Apps vs. Microsoft Office

There are any number of cloud topics Microsoft could address at TechEd, from its struggle to wrench momentum away from Google Apps, to security of the cloud, and licensing the use of Windows in cloud services.

But Microsoft's strategy around Azure seems to be less well defined than its other cloud ventures, and therefore may receive a bigger focus at TechEd, analysts say.

"I expect them to make a major move" regarding Azure, says Burton Group analyst Drue Reeves, who believes Microsoft has to walk a fine line with Azure, which delivers a cloud-based operating system, relational database and several other services.

Azure potentially poses a conflict of interest for Microsoft, he says. Microsoft wants partners to use the Hyper-V virtualization technology and .Net software framework to build cloud services, but the market presence of Azure might dissuade cloud providers from using those Microsoft technologies, Reeves says.

"If you're a new provider, are you going to use Hyper-V, or are you going to use .Net and offer that as a service and compete with Azure? Not likely," Reeves says. Microsoft is "providing the enabling technologies for cloud providers and selling against them at the same time."

Azure exited beta and went into general availability on Feb. 1 of this year.

But Microsoft has been relatively quiet overall about the cloud service, analysts say. "I have a list of questions to ask [Microsoft] about Azure," says Pund-IT analyst Charles King.

In addition to the cloud-based operating system and SQL database, Azure includes a content delivery network. The CDN was released in November 2009 into beta, and has been available to users for free since then. Microsoft has just recently announce that it will charge $0.15 per GB for data transfers starting on June 30.

King says he wants to know what other Azure services will be rolled out, and what kind of interest Azure is receiving from customers so far. While most big IT vendors are focusing on enterprises and service providers, King says Microsoft may be ideally positioned to market its cloud service to small- and medium-sized businesses.

"Microsoft is the de-facto vendor of choice for most small businesses," King says. "I think small- and medium-sized businesses are in a position to really gain some interesting benefits from the cloud."

Reeves says Azure seems to be in flux, with Microsoft still "trying to figure out whether it's platform-as-a-service or infrastructure-as-a-service."

Cloud platforms allow developers to build and deploy web applications without any internal hardware and software, while infrastructure services deliver raw computing and storage capacity to customers.

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