Channel Call

Forecasting Azure Skies

Never mind the recession. With Windows Azure, partners have a new set of challenges brought on by cloud-based computing.

Right now, the top priority for most companies is to simply stay in business for the next six months to a year. Anne Stuart's cover story in this issue includes strategies and tactics for getting your company through what's shaping up to be a nasty recession.

Less urgent -- but equally important -- to the long-term health of any Microsoft-dependent business is to get properly positioned for the onset of Software plus Services (S+S). This has been a big year on that front. Over the summer, Microsoft laid out several Microsoft Online Services packages, complete with a partner compensation model.

More recently, at the Microsoft Professional Developers Conference (PDC) in late October, Microsoft introduced a broader framework for cloud computing that encompasses Microsoft Online Services and more information about how far it will go toward S+S. The bottom line: Nothing on the server side is off the table.

The framework is called the Azure Services Platform. Officially, it's summed up as "cloud-based developer capabilities with storage, computational and network infrastructure services, all hosted on servers operating within Microsoft's global data center network."

Components of the Azure Services Platform include Windows Azure (a brand-new, cloud-based operating system), SQL Services, .NET Services targeted to both administrators and developers, user-focused Live Services, Microsoft SharePoint Services and Microsoft Dynamics CRM Services.

In this magazine's three-and-a-half-year run, we've consistently made the case that you should care about Software as a Service and S+S. I won't rehash those arguments here. The question with Azure is not whether you should care -- it's when you should focus on it.

The state of play is that an Azure Services Platform community technology preview and software development kit are available now. A final release date hasn't been announced, but judging from comments in a PDC keynote by Dave Thompson, corporate vice president for Microsoft Online, late 2009 seems like the earliest time frame for a generally available 1.0 feature set and official pricing.

For partners that are ISVs and custom-development shops, now is the time for evaluating Azure and its potential impact on your business model. If you can reduce the up-front hardware and software costs for your customers by developing some or all of the applications to run on-demand in Microsoft's pay-per-use cloud, you can increase market demand for the value that your applications bring to your customers.

If you're an integrator or reseller, the takeaway message is: Wait and talk to your key ISVs. Sometime toward the second half of next year, you'll have a clear sense of whether ISVs are latching onto Azure like Microsoft hopes they will-or largely ignoring the platform the way they largely ignored Windows Vista. If ISVs are writing to Microsoft's cloud, you can start ramping up to engage your customers about getting maximum value out of this cloud-based platform and helping them integrate the new pieces with their on-premise systems.

If some of the more optimistic forecasts are right, that timing could come just as customers are eager to spend money again in 2010. And that would indeed be a forecast for Azure skies.

About the Author

Scott Bekker is editor in chief of Redmond Channel Partner magazine.