Ozzie, Services and Virtualization Will Get The Cloud Started Too

In an interview Ray Ozzie indicated that email and collaboration, a.k.a. Exchange, SharePoint and online Outlook, is what enterprises will turn to first as apps are put in the cloud. I don't disagree, and I think that's probably true as far as enterprises go. Enterprises are generally the toughest customers to satisfy because their requirements are so much more extensive. More than just recoverability, you have transaction volume requirements, auditing, systems management, and service levels that must be met. Millions of dollars are at stake during a relatively few minutes of downtime, or by not meeting a regulatory requirement.

But the cloud will, and is, initially driven by two things: online services software and virtualization. The things that naturally go in the cloud are software like SaaS and web-based apps, online storage shared between computers, and sync for a user's personal devices. In general either more consumer oriented (one by one) type apps or targeted SaaS applications -- those are what we see shaping the cloud today. Meanwhile back in the enterprise datacenter, virtualization is preparing enterprise organizations for one day using the cloud to host and distribute parts of their IT infrastructure just as their own physical data centers do today. The more enterprises virtualize their infrastructure, the easier and more accustomed they will be to moving parts into the cloud. As virtualization matures in both the cloud and the enterprise datacenter, so too will the tools and systems to manage virtual infrastructure.

My experience in working with Amazon EC2 that while powerful, we are still dealing with the infrastructure at a very low level (images, volumes, generic machine specs, and lots of low level sequential tasks, etc.) It feels a bit like "bear skins and stone knives". Bringing up instances can take 10, 20, 30 minutes or more at times. (And the EC2 cloud can run out of capacity, btw.) Understandably there's a big virtual image being pushed around the network and loaded onto some machine but patience is required to work in the cloud. FYI - I ended up automated a good deal of the startup, monitoring and then shutdown using Ruby so that there would be less waiting in front of a computer to see if one AMI instance is done loading so another upon which it is dependant can start up.

Yes, Exchange, online Outlook and SharePoint are the first services Microsoft is offering. That's in part to combat Google's encroachment into Microsoft's customer base. But Microsoft's Azure will, just as Amazon's EC2 has, host many other SaaS and web online apps and storage.

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