Microsoft "all in" the cloud, customers not as much

But Redmond gains some traction against Google

Microsoft's chief cloud evangelist -- after Mr. Ballmer, of course -- is probably Tim O'Brien, senior director of the Platform Strategy Group at the company. While he preached the "we're all in" gospel at yet another cloud conference Monday, O'Brien acknowledged there are some nonbelievers in the congregation.

And rightly so, O'Brien acknowledged at the Cloud Leadership Forum in Santa Clara, Calif., noting that while the benefits of cloud computing are demonstrable -- lower costs, greater flexibility, scalability and the like -- not all software applications are suitable for being delivered in the cloud and that it will take a while for cloud computing to become mainstream.

"I think the takeaway here is that we are looking at a hybrid type environment for the foreseeable future and I don't know what the foreseeable future is," O'Brien said. "The time frame is the great unknown."

The three-day event was co-produced by the research firm IDC and IDG Enterprises, which is the publisher of Network World.

Holding back wider adoption of cloud computing, among other reasons, is that not all applications are best delivered in a cloud model and are best left in the company's own data center, he said. Best suited for the cloud are packaged applications common to all businesses, such as customer relationship management, enterprise resource planning, or e-mail. Less suitable for the cloud are customized apps created for, or even by, companies for a business process unique to their business, he added.

O'Brien's comments echo those of IDC researchers at the forum who said that while cloud adoption is growing significantly, businesses have more reservations about cloud computing than enthusiasm for it.

Frank Gens, senior vice president and chief analyst at IDC, presented research showing that while customers recognize the advantages of cloud computing, they're more worried abnout the risks. Respondents' worries about cloud computing include security (87 percent of respondents), availability (83.5 percent), performance (83) and lack of interoperability standards (80), among others.

When asked about advantages of cloud computing, their enthusiasm was more muted: On the pay-as-you-go model for cloud computing cycles, 78 percent liked that; fast to deploy (78); reduce IT staff (67); enjoy the latest technology (64.6); and that cloud is "the way of the future" (54).

But despite reservations, respondents said they'll increase cloud spending to 20.2 percent of their IT budgets by 2013, from 14.4 percent in 2010, Gens said.

Microsoft heard some good news at the conference. IDC also asked customers which vendors "you would trust the most" to help adopt cloud services, either private or public. While Google claimed the top spot with 35 percent choosing it, Microsoft was breathing right down Google's neck at 34 percent.

This survey, conducted in May, shows a considerable gain for Microsoft in terms of at least consumer awareness of its offerings. A January IDC survey asked respondents to identify "the leading technology vendor for public cloud solutions." About 27 percent identified Google, but Microsoft ranked fifth with just over 5 percent identifying it. It's had other problems gaining traction.

Full disclosure, though: The questions and the methodology differed for each IDC survey, Gens noted. The May survey asked respondents to identify three vendors they "trusted" and the choices included consultants as well as providers.

Nonetheless, he continued, the latest survey at least shows Microsoft's "We're all in" marketing campaign is getting noticed. More importantly, while Microsoft certainly has a consumer focus it has also developed a strong business base among companies of all sizes, while Google began as a consumer play and is only now trying to build an enterprise business.

"I think that's the card they're certainly going to be playing as we go into this mainstream adoption of cloud computing in an enterprise setting," said Gens in an interview. "Microsoft can say, 'Our developers don't develop Widgets, they develop applications.'"

That would be pretty brazen trash talk coming from Microsoft and I think Ballmer has just the attitude to come out and say something like that.

And as Gens said, in his keynote address, of the competition, "It's going to be a brawl."

Copyright © 2010 IDG Communications, Inc.

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