Can Microsoft sell you a Windows cloud?

Azure is really the opposite of a cloud. It's a scaled, proprietary, and rather expensive system optimized for Windows.
Written by Dana Blankenhorn, Inactive on

The idea of a cloud is that you don't know, specifically, where your stuff is inside a host data center, or what its operating system is.

Microsoft needs to change that perception if it is going to remain relevant. It needs to tie cloud computing, as a service, to its Windows operating system.

The sale of that pitch has now begun. It starts, as all things Microsoft do, with alliances.

Microsoft has signed a deal with the National Science Foundation to give selected scientists free access to its cloud, called Azure. This is sort of like Nike giving uniforms to football teams. It spreads both goodwill and the brand.

The second alliance, with HP, is more significant. The idea is to connect companies with HP gear directly into Azure, making the cloud a direct extension of their infrastructure.

This is especially cool for Chinese businesses with scaling problems, or with concerns over the security of their own computer rooms.

All of which explains why Microsoft has been tippy-toeing around China lately, taking the country's side against Google, staying out of arguments over content. So what if the Windows on Chinese desktops may be pirated? Connect those companies to the cloud and it no longer matters.

Then come those developers, developers, like Zend -- and the fact that Zend is open source is a feature not a bug -- who are tweaking their frameworks so they will be optimized for the Microsoft cloud.

For Microsoft, the key to this is generating revenue through its remaining proprietary advantages and tieing  customers to Azure before they can make apples-to-apples comparisons with Google's cloud or Amazon's cloud or anyone else's cloud.

Google doesn't worry, yet, about generating revenue from its cloud. Ad-based services bring in plenty of cash to run, even grow, the Google cloud. Google, in other words, has a cost advantage. The risk for Microsoft is that customers realize this and dump Azure as Google expands its own offerings.

The amount of money we're talking about, when compared to the computing potential we're talking about, is minimal. Microsoft talks about charging just "pennies per hour" for Azure access. If Google could fill its cloud at pennies per hour for access, it would be earning ginormous profit margins.

Even the name of the Microsoft cloud, Azure, hints at this. Azure means blue, as in a deep sky blue, the blue of a desert sky, one without clouds. You can see it in the picture above, from Yourdictionary.com. The azure is the color of the high sky, the dark blue that extends toward space rather than the light blue filled with sunlight.

Even the marketing of Azure, on its home page, hints at this. "I know a place that's different, but familiar," says one picture. "I know where I can code in my language," says another, my language meaning Microsoft tools like .Net.

Azure, in other words, is really the opposite of a cloud. It's a scaled, proprietary, and rather expensive system optimized for Windows.

Not that there's anything wrong with that.

This post was originally published on Smartplanet.com

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