Microsoft as your primary cloud provider? It could happen

Microsoft as your primary cloud provider? It could happen

Summary: Microsoft's recent and longer term transitions point to one thing in my mind: re-positioning to become your business, personal, and perhaps only cloud provider. Seriously, it could happen.


In my recent post, "Microsoft: The monohedral and the bizarre," I discussed Microsoft's somewhat troubled past, the recent transformations, "One Microsoft," the decade-long transformation, and the bizarre possibility of where Microsoft is going with it all. I think I struck a resonant chord and am now expanding my analysis of what I think is going on in Redmond.

Maybe my idea of Microsoft becoming the next major cloud provider isn't so bizarre after all. I think I stepped onto the idea landmine that Microsoft is going to announce by the end of this year or early next.

The possibilities for a Microsoft Cloud are really unlimited.

I know that sort of statement is a bit cliched but not so much so if you look at all the evidence. The picture becomes less blurry and the story less bizarre.

Desktop Operating Systems

Microsoft has dominated the Desktop with its operating systems for more than thirty years now but there have been changes in recent times with the adoption of new technologies such as tablets that use "lite" operating system versions, client programs that allow interoperability with Windows systems, and a great move toward "OS neutrality."

Microsoft knows that the traditional desktop operating system's days are numbered. Microsoft also knows that the trend toward OS neutrality is going to majorly bang its operating system profits in the traditional sense. In other words, people won't be buying computer systems and installing a purchased copy of Windows onto it anymore. Those days are almost over. Windows 8 is probably the last of the traditional OS Mohicans.

"Microsoft didn't invent the Cloud. It didn't invent the personal computer. It didn't invent the first operating system. But it did write the applications that made all of those things possible and it made those things better. It still does and it will continue to do so."

Desktop operating systems of the future will be those of the cloud-based variety. You will only use client software to access them. You probably won't know or care where they're hosted nor will you be bothered with any traditional software. All applications and programs that you use will come from App stores. You won't even deal with ISOs anymore. You'll pick your deployments from a dropdown list, click 'Go', and then enjoy your new system within minutes.

For the end user, the desktop will be no more than an App accessed over a secure channel with all data stored on the corporate network or a private storage area to which you subscribe. Think cloud desktop connected to Dropbox.

Server Operating Systems

Microsoft also knows that cloud computing is the best way for businesses to deploy new applications and workloads. Therefore, Microsoft will also offer server clouds with multiple options.

Here are the options as I foresee them:

  • Traditional virtual servers - A full operating system
  • Cloud servers - Virtual private clouds
  • Multi-tenant servers - Think Parallels here
  • Applications and Application Clusters - Next section

There are probably going to be more options that I haven't considered but these are the most likely candidates for initial commercial success.

Microsoft will have to provide traditional virtual private servers (VPSs) to its customers at least in the short term. I think that VPSs will go away permanently in a few years. Customers will lose interest in managing standard systems and move toward cloud systems and application clusters.

Microsoft should buy Parallels or develop similar technology so that it can provide multi-tenant services to customers. Some customers will have such low needs that a traditional VPS will be too much and cloud servers will be extreme overkill. Multi-tenant systems provide businesses with the ability to host their sites inexpensively and with ease. Hosting providers have been doing this for years.

Applications and Application Clusters

Probably the biggest market for the Microsoft Cloud is application deployment via application clusters. In fact, the term "application cluster" will morph into virtual application or simply, application. Application clusters have the most potential because customers will realize that the operating system is merely a substrate onto which their applications are deployed. That substrate will decrease in significance over time.

For example, if a company wants to deploy a CRM application, a developer would select CRM from the list of available applications and click 'Go.' The CRM would appear in a few minutes ready to use and customize.

For purely custom applications, I foresee Microsoft providing an application template or framework onto which developers can build their code and specific requirements. There probably will be an integrated IDE in which developers can work as well.

An even better look into the future would include an Enterprise App Store where businesses could select the applications they want to deploy from the store. They could begin their subscriptions right then, deploy the application, and use it all within the time it takes for a coffee break. Now that's agile!

That's pretty much what you have now with Office 365. A few clicks and you're done. Office 365, in my opinion, is the way of the new Microsoft.

Think of Microsoft as the company that it started as way back in the dark ages (Pre-Internet years) of the mid-1970s. It has returned, or attempted to return, to its roots of being "One Microsoft." A single company that provides the best software possible to its customers, which it has consistently done since 1975.

Microsoft didn't invent the Cloud. It didn't invent the personal computer. It didn't invent the first operating system. But it did write the applications that made all of those things possible and it made those things better. It still does and it will continue to do so.

Microsoft has positioned itself well in this brave new era of computing, just as it for the personal computing era back in those early days. If you think Microsoft is going to be left behind, or go out of business, you're sadly mistaken. The cloud is just the beginning for the new, old, One Microsoft.

What do you think? Do you think Microsoft is going to break into the realm of cloud provider for desktops, servers, and applications such as Office 365 and Or, do you think it will remain simply as a software company that sells applications? Talk back and let me know.

Note: In case you don't get it, the monohedral and the bizarre is a direct reference to Eric S. Raymond's, "The Cathedral and the Bazaar" book based on Linux development and the rise of so-called open source software. Monohedral refers to the notion of "One Microsoft" and the bizarre part is as I've stated, the idea that Microsoft should enter the cloud arena as a provider and competitor.

Original graphic created by Meghan D. Cox. Used with permission.

Topics: Microsoft, Virtualization


Kenneth 'Ken' Hess is a full-time Windows and Linux system administrator with 20 years of experience with Mac, Linux, UNIX, and Windows systems in large multi-data center environments.

Kick off your day with ZDNet's daily email newsletter. It's the freshest tech news and opinion, served hot. Get it.


Log in or register to join the discussion
  • Why must we even consider "Cloud" providers

    When I entered the work force, computer usage meant using little slices of mainframe computing in processing runs called "jobs." PC were successful because workers could run analysis and forecast with something called a spreadsheet. IBM was not happy that computing was slipping into offices that were not connected to their hardware but this was the very thing that we most wanted at that tine.

    Why are we rushing headlong back into centralized computing resources? While the new paradigm gives more processing power to the local client, it still requires periodic and regular connection to an unseen and anonymous "server" service center. It amazes how quickly we have come full circle back to a large corporation that controls our data.
    • Im curious what part of this whole thing Ken doesn't

      think Microsoft has already done. They have done all this already. They have the best iaas and best pass already. They have multi tenent. The best cloud app dev tools for enterprise and smb custom apps, web hosting etc. etc. They have almost the entire fortune 1000 as cloud customers.
      Now to your point no cloud app should ever require the client to connect ever. They should leverage a connection if ones available but initial software install should be the end of the requirement. Software updates, data roaming, etc. should all be opt in. However lots of apps are fairly useless without recently updated data. Pick your comfort level.
      Johnny Vegas
  • Obviously ...

    ... and if METRO, the price of a Surface Pro, the Office 365 subscription, 30% developer cut and other such wannabe-APPL imprisonments is anything to go by ... I will be marginalising them as quickly as possible.
  • OTOH

    Since I could buy 3 desktops and 3 Office licenses for £1000 ... then if the subscription for everything is £1000/(3*3*12) per month (i.e. 3 year refresh) then I might be interested ...
    ... but only if I had a guarantee for continuous price reduction in line with technology advancements.

    Otherwise you can go kiss your cloud!
  • Microsoft as your primary cloud provider?

    No I don't think so. Ken? Are you in some kind of "hibernation" state or something? Is that the same Microsoft that wold break their own encryption software to allow NSA (and maybe others) snooping on the clients?
    AMOF, I don't see any company to be a good provider for cloud services. And Microsoft is just the most pronounced example of this fact. At least with Google, I can use the proven and open tools, for example, with gmail: IMAP+mutt/rmail+gpg .
    • Hah

      Hah no way, I can do this already with VM's, and make my own private network (cloud). And because of this recent NSA / MS debacle I'll be looking more into things like ownCloud and AjaXplorer instead of COTS stuff.
    • to allow NSA (and maybe others) snooping on the clients?

      And you are fool if you think Google and Yahoo and et al are innocent on this front as well.
      • repetitio est mater studiorum

        This will fsck NSA, FBI, CIA, KGB. Not that I care about their freaking snooping.
  • Adopting socialist principles to computing. What could go wrong?

    We've all seen over the years, how the adoption of Linux server has decimated the UNIX industry. Wealth has been driven out of the market, and innovation has declined. Why? Because the GNU's licensing model discourages the ownership of code, and the generation of wealth around the code. Now pundits, obsessed with the public cloud for one reason or another, want us to devalue the ownership of computer technology and IT resources. They say screw history! Screw the lessons of history! Let's all go in, guns blazing! As I've indicated before, never throughout history, has a group or society, created sustained wealth through the denial of ownership of property and resources. In the old Soviet Union, things looked good initially, but eventually, the system collapsed on itself. That is how things usually seem, when you adopt socialist principles.

    I know it doesn't seem this way, but any company which stresses private cloud ownership (and makes this a painless as possible) over public cloud services, will be on top in the long run. All I see now are pundits and many others shouting that users should relinquish the ownership of computing properties and resources, and I'm forced to shake my head at what will happen if they do. Then there is the matter of privacy and security, which is another dimension of pain, looming in the wings.
    P. Douglas
    • Having lived in Soviet Union for a half of my life

      I can tell you that things never looked good there.

      Ownership is a good thing.
      • have done the same thing

        Yes, I agree that things never looked good there. But if you compare certain things in US (as well as the rest of the Western world) and SU, you might wonder who and where really were the better Bolsheviks? Say, the US educational system reminds me of how the economic affairs were in the SU, namely, like "sh**t on the frying pan". Soviet ed. system was much and much better...
    • Some history

      Soviet Union things never looked good initially. Maybe only in theory long before it looked otherwise. The Civil war of the 18-23 had decimated the nation. Bolsheviks started with atrocities and huge bloodshed. When talking about socialism in GNU and Linux, I'd be referring to the various European models, like Sweden, Norway, France and even UK.
      Now with GNU and Linux vs. Unix. If Unix were ever about proprietarism and closeness, it would never get any traction. It really wasn't originally. When it stopped being so, GNU, BSD and Linux came right about and crushed it.
      Actually, all those big fat proprietary Unices were defeated by the open and free GNU/Linux. Look at the top500 numbers and beyond. That was a fair competition, no under-table activities Microsoft is so good at is ever at play.
  • I don't think so

    The computer world was never dominated by Microsoft. For a while they abused their partners (aka OEMs) and to some extend still continue to -- but many already woke up. That's about it.
    • Rewriting history

      or your last comment?
      William Farrel
    • Altered states of reality, and denial,

      are no way to face the facts, and the fact is that, Microsoft did dominate the computer world, even as they didn't make the computers or hardware.

      In fact, MS still dominates the world when it comes to it's presence in all things related to IT.

      PC sales may have slowed down, but I'll bet that there are still billions of Windows-powered PCs still in use around the world. Those who haven't purchased PCs lately, haven't gotten rid of their older PCs; they're still in use, even if not as often.
  • Microsoft as your primary cloud provider? It could happen

    Yes it can. I'm already seeing it. Its going to be a lot easier on businesses to just go to one vendor for all their software needs.
  • Cold Day In Hell!!!

    Only an idiot would trust Microsoft with anything.
    • There will be billions of idiots, and thousands of cold days in hell,

      because, it's happening already, and it will accelerate as time passes.

      Heck, even I was against the cloud, but, I see that people are opting for the crippled mobile devices, and not purchasing as many PCs as in the past, so, they will be needing to use the cloud for most of their computing.

      For the "post-PC" mantra to be true, cloud computing must also be true. Anyhow, I'm keeping my PC, and I'll still keep my smartphone and tablet handy for the cloud. ;)

      So, if people are adopting and adapting to the cloud, then, it only stands to reason that MS will be a huge player in that area, and likely the biggest. We've heard about the million server computer center from Microsoft, and it's likely to become a five-million server center is a couple of years or less.
      • re: heck, even I was against th cloud

        Ok, so if it comes from Microsoft, you would take anything?

        Good follower of the Microsoft religion, adornoe. Saint Billy will mention you in his prayers!
        • Nope! Not everything I use is from Microsoft, but, I am a realist,

          and I see how Microsoft does dominate in so many areas that, you can't get away from them, and the cloud is the area which they aim to also dominate.

          MS didn't create the cloud, but they are becoming the best at it, and eventually, the biggest. I don't necessarily want the cloud to dominate how people do their computing, but, the people decided on that when they chose to go with tablets and smartphones and remote computing. So, I'm just being realistic, while still not liking it.

          BTW, I still use my desktop (and laptops) for most of what I do, and my tablet and smartphones get the least usage. I still don't trust the cloud so much. But, I'm just one if billions, and the majority rules.