Posts tagged Azure
Microsoft has its haters. Many of them, in fact, and most of them well-earned after the company’s years of stumbling around in the wilderness, desperate for a credible strategy. Hence, former Apple executive Jean-Louis Gassée is right to suspect Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella’s latest internal email is a “con” and John Kirk speaks truth when he suggests that “Microsoft is still fighting yesterday’s wars with yesterday’s no-longer-existing weapons.”
But both seem so focused on mobile that they forget Microsoft’s blindingly obvious strength in the cloud.
A Decade Of Serious Neglect
But first, the problems.
Let’s face it: Microsoft has many. The company has been late to every meaningful market party in the last few years, earning it negligible share in the markets that matter, from mobile to web (search, etc.) to, yes, cloud.
Small wonder, then, that Gassée faults Nadella’s internal email as an overly broad mishmash of muddlespeak. It says nothing, or too little, and overlooks all the many areas where Microsoft is failing in order to make Microsoft employees feel that they’re actually winning … even as they lose.
Gassée goes on to suggest, Nadella may be,”making cryptic statements that are meant to prepare the troops for painful changes.”
For those of us watching at home, this would be welcome news. The industry could use a strong Microsoft and, as Kirk argues, Microsoft’s anti-strategy has yielded anything but that:
Microsoft has allowed their competitors to join forces and successfully scheme against them. Microsoft has responded to the successes of their competitors by forswearing their strongest weapons, abandoning their strongest defensive positions and rushing to attack their competitors wherever they may be, even if those battlefields were located where Microsoft was at its weakest and their competitors were are at their strongest. When these attacks inevitably failed, Microsoft resorted to wars of attrition. Yet in these wars of attrition, it was Microsoft, not their opponents, who suffered most, taking disproportionally greater losses than they inflicted.
In sum, “Microsoft’s approach is the very antithesis of a strategy.”
Microsoft’s (One?) Position Of Strength
Except there’s one key area that Microsoft’s detractors get wrong, which Nadella nailed. In his 3,000-word email to the Microsoft faithful, Nadella calls out Azure as a beacon of hope (emphasis mine):
Our cloud OS represents the largest opportunity given we are working from a position of strength. With Azure, we are one of very few cloud vendors that runs at hyper-scale. The combination of Azure and Windows Server makes us the only company with a public, private and hybrid cloud platform that can power modern business. We will transform the return on IT investment by enabling enterprises to combine their existing datacenters and our public cloud into one cohesive infrastructure backplane. We will enable our customers to use our Cloud OS to accelerate their businesses and power all of their data and application needs.
Everything in this paragraph is emphatically, powerfully true.
Yes, Amazon Web Services remains five times larger than the rest of the cloud computing pack combined in terms of utilized capacity. But it’s also true that Microsoft remains CIOs most trusted vendor. It’s not surprising, therefore, that Azure consistently clocks in as the second most popular Infrastructure-as-a-Service cloud, as Forrester and other surveys show:
The reason is that Microsoft, more than any other vendor, owns yesterday’s workloads. As enterprises look to shift (Windows) workloads from desktops and data centers to the cloud and as Microsoft improves the tooling for developers and operations professionals looking to move applications to the cloud (something that company announced in April, as covered here), Microsoft’s Azure will be a natural home for them.
This is something that AWS and Google can’t deliver. To be fair, it’s not clear that they want to, focused as they are on greenfield workloads. But there’s real strength in being able to move enterprises from yesterday to tomorrow.
As Gartner’s Lydia Leong notes:
Microsoft has brand, deep customer relationships, deep technology entrenchment, and a useful story about how all of those pieces are going to fit together, along with a huge army of engineers, and a ton of money and the willingness to spend wherever it gains them a competitive advantage; its weakness is Microsoft’s broader issues as well as the Microsoft-centricity of its story (which is also its strength, of course). Microsoft is likely to expand the market, attracting new customers and use cases to IaaS — including blended PaaS models.
Microsoft, in sum, is perfectly positioned to do well in the massive cloud market.
Winning In The World’s Least Sexy Market
Microsoft’s success in the cloud is perhaps to be expected. Microsoft, after all, isn’t the sexiest company around. It’s an older company with bona fides in the enterprise. Though it has been successful in the gaming market with Xbox, its real success has always come from the enterprise, where it has consistently won through superior tooling and overall ease of use.
Even for the most ardent believer in public cloud computing, it’s likely that we will shuffle through a decade (or more) of hybrid cloud computing as enterprises seek to move existing, data center workloads to the cloud. As Red Hat’s Alessandro Pirelli holds, it can take a year just to move 10 applications to the cloud.
If Microsoft can accelerate time-to-cloud, it will win. And win big.
Lead image: Microsoft executive vice president for operating systems, Terry Myerson at Microsoft Build 2014 by ReadWrite.
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Mobile and cloud go together like spring and rain, which is why Microsoft wants to keep them together for years to come—the latest updates to its Azure Web-based computing service will certainly help with that.
Microsoft Azure is the company’s bet against Google and Amazon Web Services, and at the recent Microsoft Build conference, we learned the platform has been updated with a slew of features like .NET backend support, single sign-on with the Active Directory authentication system and offline data syncing through the new Microsoft Azure Preview Portal, which the company called “an important step forward in delivering our promise of the cloud without complexity.
Developers, however, have several places to go when it comes to choosing these kinds of services.
While Microsoft has been busy focusing on its core Windows business over the last few years, Amazon and Google have dominated the cloud by offering massive computing power at highly competitive prices.
Now that Microsoft has found its new CEO—who happens to be the former head of its Cloud and Enterprise group—Satya Nadella seems to be orchestrating a turnaround to catch up to its rivals in the cloud.
Azure Portal Debuts
With Microsoft moving more of its software building tools to the cloud, including its Visual Studio development framework, the company has also decided to update its Azure dashboard to look and feel more like its modern UI apps.
With Mobile Services and now Visual Studio already included inside Azure, end-to-end development using Microsoft’s cloud is looking like a more feasible reality.
If you look at the above image, you’ll see the updated Azure dashboard looks and feels more like Microsoft’s “Metro UI,” and each menu includes drill down sections for things like server usage and monitoring, Web site analytics, billing and more. The billing section features a line item listing of all charges that will show up on a monthly bill, which was one of the most requested Azure features, according to Adam Abdelhamed, a Microsoft Azure senior program manager.
Microsoft hopes to separate itself from its more mature cloud hosting competition by offering a more complete set of tools from app operations to development. That means providing more traditional cloud computing tools for things like adding and subtracting servers as traffic ramps up and down. Microsoft hopes developers prefer this kind of “infrastructure on demand” as opposed to hiring up their own operational teams.
Automating the infrastructure can allow developers to focus more on the front ends of their apps, if they so choose. In this regard, Microsoft announced integrations with network management firms Puppet Labs and Chef to help businesses get more comfortable with that side of things; however, Amazon has a beta program called AWS OpsWorks that seems to be the same kind of setup, and Google similarly grouped all of its cloud tools into the Google Cloud Platform recently.
The real question for Microsoft is if developers are more enticed by their new offerings than similar cloud ecosystems from Amazon and Google; from the looks of it, Microsoft still has a lot of catching up to do. We’ve already seen another round of back and forth price cuts between these three companies in 2014, and now Microsoft has updated its cloud hosting features— if cloud competitors weren’t paying attention to Microsoft before, they certainly are now.
Microsoft may have joined the cloud game a bit late, but the company has the tools, the leadership and the cash to be competitive for years to come.
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If you don’t do Windows, Microsoft still wants to talk to you.
One proof point there: Windows Azure, its answer to Amazon Web Services, is now called Microsoft Azure. The name change may be superficial, but there are deeper changes afoot, including a host of announcements the company made at its Build conference for developers in San Francisco on Thursday.
Visual Studio Goes Online
The core of how Microsoft has catered to software creators over the year is Visual Studio, a desktop program that offers an integrated development environment, or IDE—in other words, all the tools you need to write, test, and fix software. It was, naturally, only available on Windows.
At Build, Microsoft executive Scott Guthrie announced that Visual Studio Online, a Web-based version of Visual Studio, had exited a period of testing and was now available to all comers. For groups of more than 5 users, it requires a paid subscription, and it still lacks some of the features of the desktop version, but it is a way developers who prefer Mac or Linux machines can get a taste of Microsoft’s code-building tools.
Another way Microsoft is courting those developers is through the partnership it unveiled last November with Xamarin, a San Francisco-based software company which offers code-building software compatible with Microsoft’s tools and frameworks, including the C# programming language and the .Net framework. Xamarin Studio is available for both Mac and Windows, making it another way Microsoft can broaden its reach among developers it has not traditionally courted. Xamarin cofounder Miguel de Icaza demonstrated Xamarin on stage at Build on Thursday.
At the same time, it is also clear that Visual Studio will also be more and more tightly integrated with Azure. For example, Microsoft now lets Visual Studio users increase or decrease the amount of computing power they wish to rent on Azure right within the program. This integration is meant to let developers move more quickly by adding extra servers or instances without having to leave their coding environment.
Ironically, Microsoft is catching up on its own turf. Amazon, Microsoft’s archrival in Web-based computing services, recognized the opportunity to court Microsoft developers and already offers a Visual Studio extension for managing the full range of Amazon Web Services offerings within the program.
MIcrosoft also added to its mobile back-end offerings, which allow app developers to focus more on designing an app’s user interface and worry less about how it will store data and run code.
A key back-end service is Azure Active Directory, a Web-based version of Microsoft’s authentication system for corporate networks. An executive from DocuSign, a document-management service, showed how its mobile app used Azure Active Directory to let users log in with the same credentials they might use for their company email—on an iPhone, no less.
At the same time it’s making Visual Studio more attractive—or at least a plausible option—for non-Windows developers, it’s also letting developers use a wide variety of programming languages to access Azure’s computing services. And it’s letting them use Visual Studio and Azure to create apps that run on Apple’s iOS, Google’s Android, and the Web, not just Windows.
This doesn’t represent a whole new strategy for Microsoft, which has been building towards this for years. But the collection of products and features Microsoft highlighted at Build shows that it now has a serious portfolio for developers of all stripes.
Photo of Scott Guthrie, Microsoft’s executive vice president, cloud and enterprise group, by Owen Thomas for ReadWrite
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A week after cloud-computing price cuts from Google and Amazon, Microsoft lowered the price of its own storage and compute offerings by up to 65%, Steven Martin, Microsoft Azure’s general manager, announced in a company blog post. The news comes in advance of Microsoft’s annual Build conference later this week.
That’s likely not the end of the price cutting. All three companies have a big incentive to gain as much traction as they can with big business customers, as it’s still early days in the cloud era.
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Microsoft looks likely to step away from its all-Windows-all-the-time branding strategy by renaming its Windows Azure cloud service to “Microsoft Azure,” ZDnet’s Mary Jo Foley reports. The move, which Microsoft is likely to announce at its Build developers conference next week, is part of a broader shift under new CEO Satya Nadella away from tying major Microsoft products to Windows.
Image by Flickr user D.Begley
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