At the Microsoft Professional Developer Conference, Server and Tools VP Bob Muglia positions the new Microsoft Windows Azure cloud offering as the next 2010-2019 step after Web (1990s) and Web services/SOA/REST (this decade). He says it is as important as 1992 announcements around Windows NT. Azure is Microsoft's version of the Amazon EC2 cloud service. In Muglia's view, cloud computing is the next in a multiple-decade, six-step architectural evolution.
The thing that concerned me is that at the same meeting, Ray Ozzie positioned Azure in a way that I thought was fundamentally different. To be fair, Ozzie's view was from the perspective of individual vs. enterprise vs. the whole Internet -- rather than architecture. But architecture and application have to be looked at together to understand the promise of cloud computing.
Microsoft wants you to think of Azure as really something new. But Ozzie's description sure made it sound like Web 2.0, circa 1999, of which Ozzie was one of the thought leaders while at Groove. One of the reasons for this conflict, I believe, is because Microsoft will not bite the bullet and move to a services mentality. It keeps using the term "software plus services." I suggest that IT folks not get caught in the trap that software and services can be combined in that way. You should look for suppliers that do one or the other, but be wary of those that claim they do both together in some mind meld. Microsoft is not the only one making this claim.
Despite the mixed message, the way Microsoft showed partner examples of Azure was effective and the benefits to existing Microsoft users are potentially large. The partners were Sentient, offering a new social computing service called Bluehoo, and the venerable Red Prairie (nee McHugh), offering a venerable warehouse management application in support of supply chains. The advantage for both such new-age and traditional software/service suppliers is lower administration costs (24/7 admin at 9-to-5 costs) and the ability to scale up and down for peaks and valleys in demand for IT resources. For existing Microsoft users, the advantage is that existing Microsoft tools, such as Visual Developer, and infrastructure software, such as the .NET Framework, can be used with Azure.