It’s funny that so much literature in IT trade magazines depicts Microsoft as the aging champion of on-premise software, struggling in vain to hold back the tide of younger, more nimble cloud players of the likes of Google and Salesforce.com. Perhaps a good story needs drama, and Microsoft fit the bill for a stock antagonist, ludicrously bound to the old order, tilting at windmills. But the plot now takes a surprise twist. Microsoft has leapt into the cloud, reinventing itself as a leader of innovation.
Windows Azure is the first OS for the cloud. All prior operating systems were built for servers. While virtualization broke the one-to-one connection binding servers to machines, it did not did not eliminate the concept of the server. Servers became virtual, could share a single physical machine, and could even hop from machine to machine. But even in the virtual world, a server is still a server. And these servers must be maintained, upgraded, and monitored in much the same way as they had been before they were virtualized. When an organization deploys applications in the virtual world, it deploys those applications to servers, on-premise or in the cloud.
In the new world of Azure, the individual server disappears into a cloud. Developers deploy applications to the cloud, not to servers. The developer does not even see a server, only the cloud. Azure as the cloud OS distributes, runs, and manages those applications. In the end, yes, they do run on virtual servers that live someplace on physical servers, but this is invisible to the developer, and certainly to the end user.
It’s true that other vendors offer platform-as-a-service. Salesforce.com promotes its Force.com as a platform. Indeed, Microsoft has a cloud offering of Dynamics CRM, which like Force.com is a platform for the rapid development of line-of-business applications. But neither Force.com nor Dynamics CRM are generalized platforms. While very flexible, they are intended for line-of-business applications, not just anything. You would not build a graphic design, word processing, or gaming application on either of these platforms.
Azure fits the category of platform-as-a-service, but it is the first generalized platform service in the cloud, the first platform in the cloud that supports anything your mind imagines.
Microsoft has just announced that it will support private clouds with Azure deployed through appliance hardware. With technology such as the Service Bus built into Azure, the capability exists for powerful integrations between private and public clouds. Going forward, Azure will give organizations a whole range of choices for public, private, and hybrid clouds. Enterprises will need these choices to deal with their ever changing business requirements.
Azure, a dramatic innovation in cloud computing, makes Microsoft a leader in cloud technology.