Microsoft as your primary cloud provider? It could happen

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.
Written by Ken Hess, Contributor

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 Outlook.com? 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.

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