Microsoft opened its annual Worldwide Partner Conference in Washington, D.C., with an inspiring keynote from CEO Steve Ballmer rallying its partners to join Microsoft's vision and move 'all in' for the cloud. The morning sessions also included a range of announcements both big and small. None bigger, however, than the major announcement made around Windows and SQL Azure-its cloud operating system and development environment.
Last year at WPC, Microsoft made a bunch of announcements around Azure, which launched officially a few months back. These announcements, of course, left partners and customers a little uneasy. Initially, issues about security, lack of control and who owns the end user relationship ran through everyone's head, leaving them to wonder if this suite of service offerings would, in fact, fly. In the year of so since then, and particularly since the launch, Microsoft has had some pretty decent uptake, touting more than 10,000 customers on the platform already.
But those initial concerns didn't go away. In fact, they have started to get worse. Issues around data sovereignty (many enterprise can't have their critical business data sitting on someone else's network), compliance and regulatory requirements have been show stoppers for many enterprises considering a cloud computing initiative. This has led many of them to build 'private' clouds, whereby they use the same technology available in a public cloud to build a cloud in their data center for just their enterprise. This has prompted its own set of challenges.
Private cloud computing is no easy task. The beauty of cloud computing is the reduction in complexity and cost associated with running an IT structure and delivering it to your users. By building a private cloud, you are simply trading one set of headaches and difficulties for another. What is the bargain in that? In fact, most enterprises are likely to spend a lot more in this model than a traditional IT model, and they won't have the expertise and best-practices knowledge to make it work.
Microsoft's big announcement this morning addresses all this and more. During his keynote, Bob Muglia, Microsoft's president of Server and Tools announced the Windows Azure Appliance. The concept is simple: Microsoft will work with hardware vendors to deliver the Azure platform to users and partners through a box that sits in the customer's data center. So while Windows and SQL Azure will be delivered to this appliance as a service, customers will have the ability to control, manage and fine-tune that service. Better yet, all critical business data will live on this appliance in the customer's data center, thus eliminating its concerns around compliance and data sovereignty.
This solution also enables partners to craft their own solutions that they can resell in conjunction with all the other services they already deliver. The power and scalability of these appliances teamed with Microsoft's expertise make this an ideal way to expand a cloud computing service in a smart and affordable way. For enterprise customers and users, the scalability is equally important as the upfront investment can be manageable without painting you into a corner as the inevitable growth comes.
Once again, Microsoft has shown it has the ability to listen and react to customer demands. There is most certainly a place for the public cloud, and Azure along with Amazon and Google have a bright future there. But just like not everybody likes the same flavor of ice cream, clients need options and flexibility.The Azure Appliance delivers that flexibility and moves Microsoft way out in front in the battle to own the cloud-no matter where it might be located.