Microsoft Azure: Window into the Cloud
Maybe that's really BackOffice into the Cloud since Azure is Microsoft's coordinated move into the "cloud computing" rage that is sweeping across IT-land. Popularized by the likes of Amazon AWS and Google, the notion of using (renting) the infrastructure of a large provider to host applications has become an emerging strategy for corporations and ISVs to cost-effectively deploy their products without resorting to the major up-front costs of a data center. Rather than hire staff competent with the complexities of scaling server hardware, 24x7x365 uptime, high-end routers, and so on, you can effectively outsource this function to a Google, or a Amazon, or now, Microsoft.
At least that's the theory.
In practice, a company moving to the "cloud" has some serious considerations to, well, consider. Among them:
- Is my data secure and private ?
- Is my vendor stable and invested in the model ?
- Can I move my applications as-is ?
- What is the cost structure ?
- Does the vendor supply a quality-of-service statement ?
Many others ensue, but for me, these are the major ones. Any of these could be a deal-breaker depending on the circumstance.
What is striking to me from reading about Azure is how little of many of these items are addressed so far. To be fair, Azure is still in the pre-release cycle aimed primarily at developers, but the target audience for this won't be developers - it will be the IT guys, CIO's and senior managers who will be the decision makers. I couldn't find much if anything on data security and privacy or cost structure. QOS is also not mentioned. Vendor stability is definitely a thumbs up with Microsoft, but are they invested in the model ? Big question mark. Maybe two big question marks.
Now to a pet peeve - what's with the marketing brand "Azure" ? Sounds like a car model - for a moment I had in my head this one. When I say "Amazon Web Services" or "Google App Engine", most developers get pretty quickly what I'm saying. With "Azure" (besides not rolling off the American tongue), it's a bit too slick for the devs I know. But I digress.
Microsoft's forays into the services and online applications world haven't been all that successful - MSN, LiveOffice, etc. My own take is that people see Microsoft as a product company - Windows, Office, SQL Server, you name it. But Internet based services are a whole 'nother can of worms. In this space, people are making partnership decisions, not strictly technology ones. Yes, it's nice I can write a .NET app that will run in the cloud. But what keeps me up at night is whether the vendor is making a commitment to the infrastructure model they are creating, or whether this is just a "me-too" offering because of what Google and Amazon are up to. In the case of those company's, they are well-recognized and respected as understanding how to run Internet-based businesses successfully. Knowing that Amazon is using their immense knowledge of networking, servers, high-speed back-end systems, etc to run their online book and products business gives me comfort that they "get" what it would take for me to create or move a business onto the Internet.
Microsoft is supporting the .NET technology platform on Azure, and surprisingly, non-Microsoft technologies such as Ruby, PHP, etc. Alas, no Linux though. Whether they resolve the questions I raised above or not, waits to be seen.