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Channeling the Cloud

Microsoft Faces Major IaaS Battle Even with Windows Azure Revamp

A crowded field of IaaS providers that includes heavyweights Google, Amazon and HP will give Microsoft's new and improved public cloud a run for its money.

Microsoft's move to broaden its public cloud to include Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS) is a welcome step the company should have taken from the outset rather than launching Windows Azure as a Platform as a Service, or PaaS. Despite a formidable global footprint of modern datacenters and robust services, Windows Azure is now facing competition from a growing cast of heavyweight IaaS providers.

Last month I touched on the challenge Microsoft faces in making the new Windows Azure competitive, while not cannibalizing partners using Windows Server 2012 for their hosting platforms ("Can Microsoft Cloud Partners Compete with Windows Azure?"). The risk is those partners could go elsewhere such as VMware vCloud, the rapidly growing OpenStack open source platform, or Amazon-compatible environments such as Eucalyptus or Nimbula.

At the same time, Microsoft has to position Windows Azure to take share from the market leader, Amazon Web Services, which continues to extend its IaaS portfolio. Last month Amazon launched its High I/O Instances, a family of services that runs high-speed I/O intensive applications targeted at Web scale and mobile apps. It offers up to eight virtual cores with a maximum of 60.5GB of memory, 10 Gbps Ethernet connectivity and 2TB of solid-state drive storage.

Amazon isn't the only IaaS provider Microsoft is challenging. Hewlett-Packard last month launched HP Cloud Object Storage and CDN with a 99.95 percent service level agreement (SLA). It's too early to tell how HP will fare but it could bring many of its server, storage and network customers into its public cloud.

In addition to supporting multiple volumes atop HP Cloud Compute instances, customers can take snapshots of their volumes to create point-in-time copies, allowing them to make new volumes from the snapshots, which can be backed up to HP Object Storage. Compute services and subscriptions to the HP cloud-based MySQL remain in beta, but those requiring or insisting on an SLA will wait until HP announces one.

Also last month, Rackspace made the long-expected transition of its compute services to OpenStack. With the new Rackspace Cloud Servers, the company can tout the promise of one day moving workloads to the HP cloud and other providers, such as AT&T, Dell, IBM and other OpenStack providers.

Microsoft faces numerous other IaaS rivals such as GoGrid, Joyent and Google. The latter recently announced the Google Compute Engine, which targets compute-intensive workloads, particularly for applications requiring 100 VMs or more. Google will also offer networking capabilities, which will enable customers to create and manage compute clusters.

Despite the onslaught of well-heeled IaaS providers, the new Windows Azure has attributes once unthinkable: the ability to create Linux instances, support for both .NET and open source languages and frameworks including an Eclipse plug-in for Java, and NoSQL including MongoDB integration.

But by not focusing on IaaS before PaaS, has Microsoft let competitors gain too much headway? Will you offer services backed by the new Windows Azure or are you partial to other providers? Drop me a line at jschwartz@1105media.com or leave a comment below.

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About the Author

Jeffrey Schwartz is editor of Redmond magazine and also covers cloud computing for Virtualization Review's Cloud Report. In addition, he writes the Channeling the Cloud column for Redmond Channel Partner. Follow him on Twitter @JeffreySchwartz.

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