3 Most Important Announcements about Microsoft's Azure Cloud

Microsoft ups the cloud ante. Now will that dog hunt?

Microsoft's Ray Ozzie significantly blew past the basic Exchange, SharePoint and SQL database hosting services with the Azure announcements at PDC 2009 yesterday. The announcements also blow right past Amazon EC2 and targets Microsoft at Google, Force.com (Salesforce.com's cloud), OpSource and others offering hosting on demand, web services and bus interconnection services in the cloud. Microsoft peeled back last year's Azure onion, showing us how Microsoft wants to do much more than just offer computing platforms or hosted Microsoft products.

There were three significant parts of the announcement that most interested me. First was AppFabric, which is Microsoft Azure's way of interconnecting to services in the Azure cloud, or through the Azure cloud to other services connected to Azure.

In early 2008, OpSource made a big deal with the "get on the bus" slogan, which at the time I convinced me there wasn't a whole lot behind Opsource's "bus" push. They seemed to be using the bus more as a marketing gimmick than really demonstrating knowledge of what it takes to interconnect apps to a bus architecture.

That's one of the few predictions I got right as OpSource has moved entirely away from the "bus" and is offering much more of a traditional head-to-head cloud infrastructure service competing directly with Amazon EC2. The slogan's now "OpSource Cloud... What Amazon EC2 Wants To Be When It Grows Up". We'll see.

I suspect there's BizTalk Server 2009 driving AppFabric's SOA offering, but the more intriguing part of AppFabric is Access Control. In essence it's a brokered authentication service that looks suspiciously like Active Directory Federation Services (formerly, "Geneva"). AppFabric's Access Control has a very similar trust model of "I trust you, you trust them, so I trust them". Trust is built at the connection, not to the end service you're accessing. I'm very interested to see how that's accepted in the cloud services market, as it seems a pretty viable approach in being able to interact with web services from heterogeneous set of providers.

The second interesting part of the announcement was Microsoft Codename "Dallas". This is Microsoft's push to offer information services, much like Google does, with the exception that Microsoft wants those information services (web services and datasets) to come from third party content providers.

It's a much more plausible approach for Microsoft because they have too much catching up to do to get where Google is today. Plus "Dallas" gives content providers a channel into the Azure cloud, where they don't really have one with Google. "Dallas" is pretty light when it comes to content partners at this point so we'll have to watch how that develops. Given that it's either download the dataset to your app or get the data through a web service, it should be pretty easy for content providers to get their content on "Dallas". Then lets see who's buying.

The third most important part of yesterday's Azure cloud announcement isn't actually a product or service. Hidden amongst all the new Azure services was Ozzie's statement that Microsoft's targeting users on Windows Desktops, mobile phones and TVs (ah hem, he said TVs).

While Windows desktop sure makes sense, the mobile phone platform is a bit of a stretch given how far behind Windows Mobile 6.5 is from the iPhone, Android and Blackberry OS's. We'll likely have to be wait for Windows Mobile 7 to see how those services would show up on a Windows powered phone, though of course existing SmartPhone apps could certainly take advantage of many of the web services "Dallas" and AppFabric might offer.

But the "TV" part really intrigued me. I'm interested to see what Ozzie has behind that curtain.

Microsoft also launched PinPoint.com, or what I call the "app store for the cloud". Combine what AppExchange is to Salesforce.com and the App Store is the iPhone, and that's what PinPoint.com wants to be for the Azure Cloud. There's a hundred pages of apps listed in PinPoint.com today. At 9 apps per page, that's 900 apps in PinPoint.com but who knows at this point how real all of those really are. The top rated companies, apps and services listed on PinPoint.com's front page were mostly a mix of the same 4 or 5 vendors. At least the directly is fairly well populated to start off, whereas "Dallas" is a bit underwhelming with just a few content providers at its debut.

With all of these Azure announcements, Microsoft is clearly upping it's ability to compete with Amazon, Salesforce.com, Google, OpSource and others. So let the competition begin, well..., being in January 2010.

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