Thursday last week, Microsoft launched some new pieces to its Azure cloud-based platform.
The highlights in order (my opinion):
- Virtual Machine hosting. Since 2010, Microsoft tried to differentiate their cloud offerings from EC2 from Amazon by providing “platform services” instead of infrastructure services (OS hosting). But I suppose in response to customer demand, they will now offer the ability to host arbitrary Virtual Machines, including Windows Server of course but also Linux VMs of various flavors (read the Fact Sheet for details). This means you will now be able to use Microsoft as a hoster, in lieu of Rackspace or Amazon, for arbitrary workloads. MS will still offer the higher-level platform services, but you won’t need to adopt those services in order to get value out of Azure.
- VPN – you can connect those hosted machine to your corp network via a VPN. It will be as if the machines are right down the hall.
- Websites – Microsoft will deliver better support for the most commonly deployed workload. Previously websites were supported through a convoluted path, in order to comply to the Azure application model (described in some detail in this 2009 paper from David Chappell). With the announced changes it will be much simpler. Of course there’s support for ASPNET, but also Python, PHP, Java and node.js.
As with its entry into any new venture, Microsoft has been somewhat constrained by its existing partners. Steve Ballmer couldn’t jump with both feet into cloud-based platforms because many existing MS partners were a.) dependent upon the traditional, on-premises model of software delivery, or b.) in the cloud/hosting business themselves.
In either case they’d perceive a shift by MS towards cloud as a threat, or at the very least, disruptive. Also Microsoft itself was highly oriented toward on-premises software licensing. So it makes sense that MS was initially conservative with its cloud push. With these moves you can see MS steadily increasing pressure on its own businesses and its partners to move with them into the cloud model. And this is inevitable for Microsoft, as Amazon continues to gain enterprise credibility with EC2 and its related AWS offerings.
The upshot for consumers of IT is that price pressure for cloud platforms will continue downward. Also look for broader support of cloud systems by tools vendors, which means, cloud-based platforms will become mainstream more quickly, even for conservative IT shops.