Microsoft Must Sell the Cloud to IT Pros in 2010

For Microsoft, 2010 is a platform building and marketing year with no less than the future success of its cloud strategy hanging in the balance, according to observers.

Experts say Microsoft's charge is not only to begin developing and delivering technology that will define its external, internal and hybrid cloud environments, but to clearly articulate to an overwhelming majority of corporate IT pros just how and why they want to live in a cloud.

In addition, there will have to be answers to questions around such issues as security, compliance and performance from those very users.

"In terms of the cloud, it is important for Microsoft to be on the right trajectory, it's not necessarily important to their business from a revenue standpoint to capture lots of revenue out of cloud in the next 24 months," says Al Gillen, program vice president for system software at IDC. "But if they don't get in line to compete, they put themselves at a significant risk of being not there when real money starts to get spent in this space."

Lining up that trajectory will dominate 2010, as Microsoft clearly has work to do across its product line to define the cloud as part of its software-plus-services and three-screens-and-a-cloud strategies.

"Our initial focus was to make it as easy for the new applications coming in [to the cloud]," said Amitabh Srivastava, senior vice president of Microsoft's new Server and Cloud division, referring to the work he has overseen on the Azure cloud platform. Srivastava, who spoke to Network World at Microsoft's November PDC conference said, "The shift you are seeing now is where our head is going. And one place is to go after legacy apps, we have to move those to the cloud."

It is there, experts say, where the major building project will get tough.

"We are talking about a large shift across the product line," says Frank Gillett, vice president and principal analyst with Forrester Research. A year ago, Microsoft said all its enterprise software would eventually be offered as a service. "So 2010 is just simply a building year to begin to get that integration among the products of software plus services. That is a lot of work."

Evidence of such work came Dec. 8, when Microsoft announced it was creating a Server and Cloud division by integrating its Windows Azure group into its Server and Tools business unit, an alignment that speaks not only to integrating the infrastructure and development tools, but a harbinger to integration that will come across Microsoft's software portfolio.The new division aligns technologies introduced in November at the company's annual Professional Developers Conference (PDC), where Microsoft showed its goal is to supply tools, middleware and services so users can run applications that span corporate and cloud networks, especially those built on top of the Azure cloud operating system.

That PDC lineup was dominated by new technologies such as Sydney (virtual networks), AppFabric (an application server layer), Next Generation Active Directory, System Center "Cloud" management tools, and updates to the .Net Framework, all of which provide bridges between corporate networks and cloud services.

But as validation to the building effort Microsoft faces, only a small portion of that software is available now. The majority will launch initial beta cycles in 2010. And Gillett adds that Azure and Microsoft's Business Productivity Online Services (BPOS), which includes Exchange and SharePoint, are in their first versions and will take several years to mature.

"The challenge for Microsoft is how they talk about their online services without using the cloud word because the cloud word will get people just thinking about Azure," Gillett says. "What they want people to think about is the full spectrum of things Microsoft can do for people as a service. Their danger right now is that Azure equals cloud."

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