5 Tactics Microsoft Is Using To Battle Linux for Cloud Dominance

Can Microsoft really battle Linux for dominance of the cloud? It's a one versus many proposition. Sides have been chosen and the battle lines are clear. The Cloud Manifesto developed by Sun, IBM, RedHat, Amazon and Google, didn't include participation by Microsoft. They were miffed. Microsoft says standards and interoperability are key to their cloud future, but the Linux competition isn't letting the Microsoft camel under the tent. It's no surprise - Microsoft is the one competitor that will make their enemies sudden allies.

Microsoft doesn't have a choice. They've got to be a significant player in the cloud or risk sitting on the sidelines watching their market evolve right past them. I'm sure the Linux camp would say that's pretty much already happened. And before Azure, that was totally true. But it's too early to make that final call, until see what the adoption of Azure is like. Still, you'd be hard pressed to say Microsoft is anything other than dead serious about making their claim for part of the next generation apps, services, data and data centers in the cloud.

Microsoft's taken an interesting approach, a much different approach than in the past. It's less bullying and much more conciliatory. It doesn't have that same Microsoft arrogance. Sure, the confidence is still there, and the edginess sometimes. The Redmond juggernaut, attacking the problem on virtually all fronts is still there. But I think some of the most interesting things are the tactics Microsoft is using in their cloud strategy. Here's some thoughts on 5 of those tactics.

1. If you build a lot of the right tools, developers will come. Most of the Azure platform that's been exposed to date are developer APIs (the counterpart to services.) Live Framework APIs for synchronization, SDK for .NET services, and programming interfaces to the Azure platform. Though I've been a part of running Microsoft products within IT, most of my experience creating products has been in the Linux and open software world. I've come to do a lot more with Microsoft technologies in the product realm over the last two years, and it's both impressive and amazing the breadth and depth of Microsoft's technology for developers. Clearly Microsoft wants to win the hearts and minds, and the technology influence, of developers.

2. If you build services, they will build apps. Microsoft just announced their next iteration of .NET Services; access control, service bus and workflow services. Live Framework, and its underlying sync services, was one of the most interesting aspects of the Azure platform to me at PDC 2008. It's unique, it's different, and no one else is seriously taking a stab at that part of the problem. It seems everything in the Azure platform is becoming a service. It's interesting Microsoft didn't copy Amazon and Google's approach by going after generic hosting in the cloud. Rather, Microsoft is focusing first on creating the services developers will use to create the next generation of cloud applications. 

3. Show others how to do it. Demo, demo, demo - you see an amazing amount of presentations by the Azure team of developers, all intended for the general population of developers who are interested in learning what Microsoft's got in store for future cloud apps. Whether it be 2008 PDC or Mix 09, there's a sizable chunk of video presentations available for developers. And now the demos are starting to show how to weave multiple Microsoft services together in an app (this MIX 09 session is a good example.) I was pretty surprised Microsoft put up videos of the PDC 2008 for anyone to see, attendee or not.

4. If you can't beat them, at least try to join them. At MIX09, Microsoft presented "A Lap Around Microsoft .NET Services". In the talk, the new .NET Services are used to tie into an app running on Google, and using a user account from Yahoo. The message is pretty clear - the head in the sand approach is gone -- here's how you tie Microsoft into the services of other major players in the cloud.  Microsoft already had religion about SOAP and the latest move is to support REST, along with non-Microsoft programming technologies, like PHP and Ruby. Has the zebra changed its stripes? I very skeptically say, maybe so... maybe so.

5. If they won't play ball, integrate anyway. The interesting thing about open technologies, like web services, REST, OpenID, is that they are designed to be open and integrated. And as such, it creates the opportunity for Microsoft to demonstrate their interoperability, even when others don't necessarily want to play. Maybe someday, we will take Microsoft serious about the new mantra of open standards and interoperability. The best way for Microsoft to convince us is to demonstrate it over and over. Show how applications utilize more than just what Microsoft has to offer is an important way to do that.

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