Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer told a gathering of students at the University of Washington today that he is betting the company on cloud computing.
Given the nature of the audience, Ballmer dwelled heavily on describing the rudimentary elements of cloud computing. The most salient cloud computing statement he made was to claim that 75 percent of all Microsoft employees are working on some sort of computing computing related initiative; and that by this time next year that number would be 90 percent.
The heart of Microsoft's cloud computing effort is Azure, which the company is about to kick off a 100-city tour to promote. According to Aziz Virani, executive vice president for global technologies and solutions for the IT services company Avanade, the ultimate winner when it comes to cloud computing will be defined first by the company that has the most popular and useful applications available in the cloud, and then secondly, the company that does the best job managing those application across hybrid clouds. Right now, he concedes, Google and Amazon may be the most "fashionable" names when it comes to cloud computing, but when it comes down to enterprise applications it will be a battle between Microsoft and other enterprise computing stalwarts such as IBM.
Virani said that despite all the hyperbole thrown around about cloud computing, hybrid environments where applications run on both shared and private cloud computing deployments will be the norm for years to come. As such, the companies that can manage those types of deployments have the best long-term strategic advantage. In terms of Microsoft, he added, it will be very hard for all but a few companies to match Microsoft in terms of breath and depth when it comes to cloud computing.
Avanade, which is a joint venture between Microsoft and Accenture, has also created an off-shore factory to help customers migrate their applications to Microsoft's Azure platform. But Virani cautions that cloud computing is a long-term trend, rather than a short-term event. Obviously, utilitarian applications such as electronic mail and backup and recovery will move the cloud first. But other more complex applications will have to be redesigned to leverage the best aspects of public and private cloud computing infrastructure. And that, he said, will take much longer to unfold than most people realize today.