Channeling the Cloud

Microsoft Brings Azure into Focus for Partners

From Azure RemoteApp to ExpressRoute, the new features Microsoft introduced at TechEd give partners new ways to leverage Azure to develop and sell new services.

More than four years after Redmond made its Microsoft Azure service available, it's still struggling to gain the installed base of the Amazon Web Services portfolio of cloud services. If it's any consolation to Microsoft, no other cloud provider has come close to Amazon, either, including Rackspace, IBM, HP and even Google. While they all have growing cloud portfolios and businesses, it appears Azure is gaining a stronger foothold.

Azure's certainly not lacking for features, and Microsoft has added and previewed quite a few new ones that promise to further its cause. More important to partners, Microsoft is rapidly adding new ways to leverage Azure to develop and sell new services. Azure has the potential to offer partners more upside than, say, Office 365, where you're limited to migration and support services. While that's not shabby, consider the upside of Azure.

Since taking over as the CEO of Microsoft back in February, Satya Nadella has evangelized the "mobile first, cloud first" de facto mission statement, and it's clearly driving everything that happens in Redmond. Azure provides the underpinning of that strategy. A year after delivering Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS) and Azure Active Directory, Microsoft added some new offerings based on Azure and on Windows Intune at the recent TechEd conference in Houston. Some key new services include the following:

Mobile Device Management (MDM): When Nadella launched the Office apps for the iPad, what got lost in the noise was the new Enterprise Mobility Suite. It runs on Azure and uses Azure Active Directory and represents Microsoft's biggest push to date into the MDM world. Like others trying to help IT adapt to the bring-your-own-device (BYOD) era, Microsoft argues, the suite offers far more flexibility than other MDM players and the ability to leverage Active Directory. As of May, it was designed to manage 1,230 Software as a Service (SaaS) apps.

Azure RemoteApp (Codenamed "Mohoro"): While this might sound like Desktop as a Service (DaaS), it's not. Rather than push an entire Windows desktop out to a PC, Mac or tablet, this service renders specific apps as remote sessions. Microsoft released a preview at TechEd and is targeting general availability for the second half of the year, but the company is waiting for customer feedback before determining how it will bring the offering to market. Microsoft will provide both a cloud-only service and hybrid offering.

ExpressRoute: Now enterprises can connect their datacenters directly to Azure without having to use an Internet connection. The service is based on Multiprotocol Label Switching (MPLS) connectivity from carriers including AT&T, Verizon and Level 3, as well as through co-location provider Equinix. This would enable partners to build services that use Azure as their primary or backup infrastructure.

Not long ago, it was unclear what Azure brought to the table in terms of opportunities for partners. The answer is coming into focus, and it's more about delivering new services than just reselling the infrastructure.

More Columns by Jeff Schwartz:

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.