Cloud can boost Asian software firms

Software developers and related service providers in the region can better compete against large market players by tapping on cloud computing, says Microsoft exec.

KUALA LUMPUR--Asian software developers and related service providers can leverage cloud computing to compete against current software giants on a more level playing field, according to a senior Microsoft executive.

Mark Glikson, Microsoft's Asia-Pacific general manager for developer and platform evangelism, said tapping on cloud computing makes it easier for smaller independent software vendors (ISVs) to build applications, as they can concentrate on the bells and whistles consumers want.

Typically, during the designing process, ISVs get derailed from the vital task of developing these added functionalities because the company's time and resources are channeled toward setting up and maintaining the infrastructure and data center, Glikson explained. The executive was speaking at a recent press briefing here on Windows Azure, a new version of Windows that runs over the Internet from Microsoft's own data centers.

He said the odds had been stacked against young software houses because they did not have the "engineering expertise or the ability to build a data center to compete against the big boys".

"Now you can, because you can leverage [cloud computing] as your 'power socket'," Glikson said. "So for the little guys, this potentially democratizes the [development work] that very large software companies can do."

"I think this fits Malaysia very well. Three guys in a garage [for instance], could build something that would have taken 100 to 200 people previously," he said.

Like electricity and water
Glikson foresees that in the future, there will be several large providers of cloud computing infrastructure, which he likens to utility providers such as electricity or water companies.

"There will be few big players that can commoditize the pieces that make up [cloud computing]. This is much better than you having your own generator in your house to produce electricity," he explained, adding that there were different ways IT players could participate in this ecosystem.

"You could be a vendor that takes the Microsoft Dynamics services and build a whole stack [of applications] on top of that, which you can then resell. Just like electricity, the value is not in the electricity but in the appliance," he said.

Glikson noted that cloud can help software companies combat piracy, which he said was a reason "why ISVs fail or struggle in emerging markets".

"Software vendors can reduce piracy of their software by making their applications available through the cloud [because] you can't pirate a service," he said. "This allows the industry to grow so it is a healthy development for Malaysian ISVs."

"Location becomes less important when you don't have to distribute your products. So you could service an Indonesian company or Filipino company or Dutch company, as it is coming out of one computing band," he explained.

Glikson cited the example of a Malaysian ISV that wanted to secure customers from the United Kingdom. "Previously, you'd have to fly to and from the United Kingdom, set up an office and the infrastructure there and get a partner. Now with cloud computing, you can sit in front of a console and quickly open up the required computational power in that location," he said.

By leveraging cloud computing services from providers such as Microsoft, developers as well as enterprises have the assurance of scalability, reliability and security, he added.

"We will give as much storage as you need, and you don't have to worry about managing the data or the whole infrastructure around it," said Glikson.

He added that this new model was ideal for companies that need massive computing power and storage to meet seasonal spikes in business activities, which may happen several times a year. For example, news sites saw a surge in visitors and pageviews during the recent U.S. presidential campaign or Malaysian general elections, he said.

"They would have to build services that scale to peak demand maybe once a year. So rather than have 100 servers when you normally really only need five servers, they can now tap on the computational power from the cloud," Glikson said.

Windows Azure is the cloud-based service foundation underlying Microsoft's Azure Services Platform, a new initiative by the software giant to help developers build next-generation applications for the cloud and enterprise data centers, delivering new experiences across the PC, Web and phone. The launch of Azure early this month places Microsoft in direct competition with other providers of Internet storage and computing services including Amazon, Salesforce.com and Rackspace.

Jimmy Yeoh, CEO of local IT services provider Maagnet Systems, said the Azure Services Platform will enable the company's developers to deploy applications in the cloud or on-premises, and provide benefits to users across a broad range of business and consumer uses.

"It will pave the way for our future developments to be created with more flexibility, while taking advantage of our existing skills, tools and technologies such as the Microsoft .Net Framework and Visual Studio," Yeoh added.

Lee Min Keong is a freelance IT writer based in Malaysia.