The cloud slide Steve Ballmer should have shown

The cloud slide Steve Ballmer should have shown

Summary: There have been lots of blogs, tweets and news stories covering Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer's talk at the University of Washington on March 4 about Microsoft's commitment to cloud computing. I didn't intend to write about Ballmer's hour-plus presentation because there was no news. But the more I thought about his talk, the more I felt it merited comment -- at least in terms of the seeming intent behind his words.

TOPICS: Microsoft, Cloud, Windows

There have been lots of blogs, tweets and news stories covering Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer's talk at the University of Washington on March 4 about Microsoft's commitment to cloud computing.

I didn't intend to write about Ballmer's hour-plus presentation because there was no news. But the more I thought about his talk, the more I felt it merited comment -- at least in terms of the seeming intent behind his words.

Ballmer highlighted a variety of products -- everything from Windows Phone 7, to Bing Maps, to the Natal gaming controller -- and touted all of these as proof that Microsoft is a leader in cloud computing. Ballmer said 70 percent of Microsoft's workforce is currently engaged in cloud-computing or cloud-related activities and by next year, that percentage would be 90 percent.Based on his presentation, Ballmer seemingly was using the terms "cloud" and "Internet" interchangeably. But to me, the Web is not the same as the cloud. Then again, maybe I'm just splitting hairs...

I understand that there is no single cloud. Is Microsoft Hotmail a cloud app? Sure, it runs in Microsoft's datacenters somewhere. Ditto with Xbox Live, the Danger Sidekick services, Office Web Apps, Windows Live services, Microsoft's hosted Business Productivity Online Services (BPOS), etc. There are lots of Microsoft servers different Web-based apps and services out there, all of which could be called part of "the cloud" even though none of the ones I've mentioned is running on Microsoft's Windows Azure.

Oh yeah. Azure .... When most pundits and industry observers talk about Microsoft and its cloud strategy, they mean Azure. I bet a lot of Microsoft's customers and developers think this way, too. Ballmer made very few references in his UW talk today to Azure -- maybe because on the Azure cloud front, Microsoft is playing catch up (at least timing-wise) to others already out there, including Amazon, Google, Salesforce and more.

Ballmer said Microsoft would support the public cloud, the customer (private) cloud, the partner cloud and the governement cloud. Until today, I felt Microsoft's story about how it would do this was pretty clear and straightforward. It was software+services and/or three-screens-and-a-cloud. According to that "story," Microsoft offers users a wide span of choices: Run your applications on-premises; partially on-premises and partially in the cloud; or completely in the cloud. On the cloud side, these applications can be hosted by Microsoft partners and/or Microsoft.

In other words, like this. (Click on the slide below to enlarge. Note IaaS is Infrastructure as a service and PaaS is platform as a service.):

(from "Introduction to Windows Azure" by Softie Lynn Langit)

So why did  Ballmer deviatie from this script now and trying to broaden the definition of Microsoft's cloud? Some Microsoft-employee blog post write-ups, post-Ballmer's presentation, provided a few clues.

The one I found that offered the most coherent and plausible explanation for Ballmer's more amorphous cloud definition came from Microsoft Senior Product Manager Andrew Kisslo on his "Why Microsoft" blog. Microsoft wants folks to understand the company has been doing "cloud computing" before February 1, 2010 (the date that it began charging customers for Windows Azure) and that "experience maters." The Redmondians want users to know Microsoft is fully committed to the cloud, and that it's a "leader" in cloud computing, not a follower.

I realize the slide above was probably a little too geeky and dry for the UW audience. A demo of Bing Maps was surely a lot more fun than a discussion of blobs and Web/Worker roles. But I think Microsoft is taking a dangerous route in trying to over-simplify its cloud strategy in the hope of being perceived as the leader instead of a follower. Not everything should get the "consumerization of IT" treatment....

What do you think? Did Ballmer convince anyone today that Microsoft is the established leader in the cloud? Or did Microsoft's new messaging backfire?

Update: TechCrunch has Ballmer's internal e-mail to the troops. His message to the Microsoft employees is "All of our products make the cloud better, and the cloud makes our products better." And Microsoft plans to launch an ad campaign, most likely to back its new cloud portal, to make sure no one forgets it....

Topics: Microsoft, Cloud, Windows


Mary Jo has covered the tech industry for 30 years for a variety of publications and Web sites, and is a frequent guest on radio, TV and podcasts, speaking about all things Microsoft-related. She is the author of Microsoft 2.0: How Microsoft plans to stay relevant in the post-Gates era (John Wiley & Sons, 2008).

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  • Slideshow

    I looked at the slide in you article and thought
    that it would have been nice, for those there to
    see. It really captures who is doing what and
    where, as far the different areas in cloud
    computing. Big retweet on this.
  • RE: The cloud slide Steve Ballmer should have shown

    @Mary Jo - I think you're missing the point about the "cloud" and how you present to a group of people about it.

    Sure, Azure is Microsoft's "cloud" system but its only the back-end platform that allows people to create their "cloud" applications. Its a method, a means-to-an-ends.

    IMHO, when talking about the "cloud" to a group of people, they only want to know about the ability of the apps themselves... not the plumbing underneath that allows those apps to work.
    • So...

      How does Ballmer talking about XBox Live as being in "the cloud" help
      mainstream businesses think about building apps? At least based on what you
      just wrote.

      Problem is, most people are playing semantic games with the term "cloud

      In some sense you're right, but in posing the question I posed, Ballmer is totally
      off the mark. I mean, Hotmail may be in "the cloud" but if I'm a startup hoping
      to defer capital investments as I start a new business, Hotmail is not going to
      do a darn thing for me. Whereas Amazon's EC2 service *will*.

      • Xbox and the cloud

        Not an expert here, but have you studied the xbox natal project? The ramifications of it are very far reaching. Its almost a complete platform for a virtual world, that doesnt need add on's. It almost seems to be a test bed for interactive computing and why not if it isnt? Gamers will run anything into the ground , so if xbox can perform, it is a logical step towards virtual worlds for business, medical, executives and anyone that works remote. I tend to not think of the Internet as the cloud, but I think the entire premise of the internet was meant to be the cloud but in the beginning, they just didnt have the apps or a well thought out plan at Al Gore's office.
      • Better examples

        Yes, Hotmail is not a great example of a cloud service that is also a platform but there are others that are. For example, Windows Live Messenger exposes APIs for things like presence and contacts that 3rd parties can use in their applications. That means they don't have to build that infrastructure themselves (saving major $$'s) and can gain access to Microsoft's users to improve their distribution. Imagine an online retail Web site that wants to provide chat-based consultation for users visiting their site. That's a cool scenario.

        XBOX Live is a perfect example. Many companies are making lots of money building games and content that they distribute through XBOX Live and that use the XBOX Live 'platform' to conduct transactions, target users etc.

        Bing Maps is another obvious example. Yes, it's an end-user facing service but many companies use it as well. The most obvious example is real estate companies that want to provide directions to houses butthere are an infinite number of ways that type of technology can be used.

        All it takes is imagination. Almost anything is a platform when you put your mind to it.
  • cloud = internet

    Hi Mary,
    in my opinion the internet and the cloud are the same thing.
    all through my training and since then i have always used a cloud image to represent the internet. have a try of visio as an example -
    i dont know why some have decided it means something different to the internet and i havent seen an example when they arent refering to the internet.
  • Excellent writeup Mary

    Ballmer as usual is lots of talk and we know that talk is cheap.
    When you read about Amazon's growing client list and all the
    money they're making outside of their retail business, you have to
    laugh at Ballmer's notions of being in the same league.

    In short, he's not. Particulary because Azure wasn't even

    "How Microsoft Lost the Platform War"

    Ballmer = Do as I follow (because I don't lead)

  • There's a couple requirements that need to be added too

    1) Trust/privacy - regulated businesses may have requirements that puts cloud computing out of the picture
    2) Connection reliability - not everyone has a super-fast connection with a 99.9% guaranteed reliability and an SLA that backs that up with compensatory actions for downtime

    There's another aspect of this that was brought up in another discussion:

    Cost and performance of bandwidth vs. local processing. Right now, local processing is winning out on both. It's the associated management costs that will sway businesses one way or another. Whether or not cloud platforms can offset the higher cost of service with a cheaper management cost remains to be seen. So far, all evidence points to a 'no'.
  • RE: The cloud slide Steve Ballmer should have shown

    I am getting the feeling here that how an application or process is handled, defines the cloud? Isnt that what cloud computing does- It changes the where it is done, Apps will get stronger- Local compute gets cheaper and instead of buying software and hardware to support, you buy a service package level for your device of choice, makes me think WAN- Max.
    I want to suggest the fantasy of 1990 was intended to be where we are going today- they didnt have the tools then, but the 15 years since has fostered a lot of direct local software and hardware sales because the infrastructure was minimal. Cloud is a great way of marketing what is just a natural progression but it is still based upon the internet for now-so using the terms together isnt that far off in my simple opinion. I had several discussions with many folks that were at the "speech" and true to form, not much was said or shown. Marketing---
  • RE: The cloud slide Steve Ballmer should have shown

    Very well written and learned much here.
    Darth Malus
  • It's the apps stupid...

    To paraphrase a slogan from the 1992 Clinton
    it's the apps stupid. It is almost a no-brainer
    to say
    that the cloud is ideally suited for dev and
    test. And
    it is only a small step from there to understand
    when all app development is done in the cloud
    that is
    where the apps will be and everyone will go
    where the
    apps are. Simply stated, the march to cloud
    is on and it will probably take 10 years to
    assimilate the existing IT landscape.

    Of course resistance to cloud computing is
    which is why Microsoft's Steve Ballmer is gung-
    ho for
    the cloud. But in terms of app dev in the
    Microsoft is just out of the gate with Windows
    Microsoft is several years behind Amazon,
    Salesforce and others in creating a PaaS
    But just like Bill Gate's "Internet vision" in
    Steve Ballmer is setting Microsoft's course into
    cloud. Will Microsoft be
    successful...undoubtedly. The
    market for cloud apps is proven and Microsoft
    enters a market until it exists. Will it take
    Microsoft years to make a profit on cloud
    Probably, but Microsoft is in it for the long
    because they have no where else to go that has
    the same
    potential to keep their revenues flowing.
  • I think you're off-base this time Mary Jo

    Trying to define the cloud narrowly as about infrastructure is very much inside baseball. Yes, developers and some IT people care about the ins and outs of cloud platforms like Windows Azure but most people - including the people who write very large checks for businesses, care about applications. It's the applications that matter.

    I think what Microsoft is saying is that the cloud is changing the way developers build applications - it's an architectural model that will lead to new types of applications - like some of the cool stuff they're doing with Bing maps. If Bing isn't a cloud app I don't know what is.

    Also, I'd disagree with you when you say that Microsoft is playing catch-up with Google in the cloud platform space. By your narrow definition, Google's cloud platform is AppEngine. I don't know if you've noticed but AppEngine is an incredibly niche offering right now with very little actual use. It suppots Python only and is experimenting with Java. It is all about driving Google AdWords revenue. It is not at all a general purpose/flexible platform. Windows Azure, on the other hand, is a true general purpose platform that can be used to creat almost any type of application using a variety of languages. If anything, Google is trailing Microsoft. While Amazon is certainly a leader in many respects with AWS, 99% of what AWS is doing is just running VM's...they're a hardware rental service. That's really no different than renting server space from Joe's hosting service down the road. They have 'true' cloud platform offerings in S3 but not many people are actually using that in any serious way.

    Finally,'The cloud' is a very popular industry buzzword that will probably go the way of SOA and 'network computing' at some point in the next couple of years and all of this will be moot. ;-)
  • "Experience Maters" (sic)

    Good spelling does too... {sigh}
  • RE: The cloud slide Steve Ballmer should have shown

    Right on, Mary Jo. The big companies, with their multiple strategies, have trouble being an early leader in a new technology arena and even more trouble putting all of their different strategies together. Microsoft is a prime example.

    I'm trying to craft a short description of Microsoft's "cloud" strategy for the update of my book and I have no idea whether to stick to Azure (tempting) or whether to give them credit for dozens of other unintegrated strategies, too. I think I'll use our slide.
  • The clown side show?

    Sorry, I thought I was going to see a picture of Ballmer wearing a big red nose.

    Seriously, it's an attempt by Ballmer and Microsoft to redefine the "cloud" concept to be something that reflects favorably on Microsoft. But the reality is far different, not only did Microsoft NOT invent the cloud, their licensing strategies have prevented the development of cloud technology from moving forward.

    Our company has been using "cloud" concepts with Linux for years now, and to a lesser extent with VMware and Windows. Virtualization, load distribution, package management, IP and web-based management tools were all developed outside of Microsoft's feeble attempts. To hear Ballmer try to take credit for any of it is a joke worthy of the term "clown".
    terry flores
  • Very late to the game....

    [i]"Based on his presentation, Ballmer
    seemingly was using the terms ?cloud? and
    ?Internet? interchangeably."

    "Microsoft wants folks to understand the
    company has been doing ?cloud computing? before
    February 1, 2010 (the date that it began
    charging customers for Windows Azure) and that
    ?experience maters.? The Redmondians want users
    to know Microsoft is fully committed to the
    cloud, and that it?s a ?leader? in cloud
    computing, not a follower."[/i]

    And yet.. Microsoft was extremely late to the
    game when it comes to the Internet... or as
    Microsoft likes to put it... "The Cloud"... LOL

    Survey says.... Follower....
  • Cloud computing has been around for more than 40 years!

    Cloud computing is nothing new. In fact, it's been around for more than 40 years. Since the days of the first networks. Cloud computing is, remote applications and remote storage. What's a network? Remote applications and remote storage.

    The sole difference is, the end user will have no idea of and no control over where that storage is.
  • I believe

    Microsoft gained IaaS/PaaS in their recently announced cross-licensing agreement with Amazon (AWS Reserved EC2 instances of Windows).

    Only then did Ballmer come out while the ink was still drying trying to play up IaaS/PaaS.
  • RE: The cloud slide Steve Ballmer should have shown