Channel Watch

Azure's Silent Debut

There were a couple of factors that led Microsoft to soft pedal what should have been a huge moment.

There were no trucks with billboards painted on their sides rolling through the streets of major cities. No stunt men rappelling off the walls of New York buildings to unveil massive banners. No '60s-era rock stars laying down a soundtrack for a major launch event.

The general availability of Windows Azure and SQL Azure arrived on Feb. 1 with little more fanfare than a blog posting and an e-mail announcement to reporters.

"Today marks a significant milestone, not only for us at Microsoft, but also for our customers and partners," the Microsoft Windows Azure blog post reads. "Starting today ... all of our partners, will be able to begin selling their solutions to their customers, ultimately enabling them to reach new markets and increase their revenue." There are a lot of good reasons for Microsoft not to make a huge deal out of general availability (GA) for Windows Azure. In an era of digital software delivery, traditional physical milestones such as release to manufacturing (RTM) and GA are becoming less relevant. That's even more true for cloud offerings, which are turned on by a vendor with the click of a mouse and upgraded the same way.

Windows Azure arguably had its big hype moment around the Microsoft Professional Developers Conference in November, and perhaps Microsoft didn't feel the need to replay the hoopla. At the same time, I don't think Microsoft knows how much traction Windows Azure will get. While there seems to be little doubt that cloud computing is emerging as something huge (see our reader survey, "Cautiously Optimistic"), it's not clear whether Windows Azure will be Microsoft's biggest hit in the cloud. Add to that uncertainty the serious concern within various business units at Microsoft that the more successful Windows Azure is, the more damage it may do to profitable products.

Windows Azure is entering a slightly crowded field with Amazon, Google and others, although Oracle's ambitions for Sun's cloud efforts remain vague at this point. Momentum for Windows Azure is hard to gauge. Microsoft's blog entry announcing the GA of Windows Azure mentioned some partners actively building and deploying solutions, including Origin Digital, GXS, TradeFacilitate, Lokad and 3M. Heard of any of them other than 3M? It's OK, I haven't either. And I'm not saying these aren't very cool implementations; it's just all extremely early with a lot of potential energy but not much kinetic energy.

All those reasons combined lead Microsoft to soft pedal what to me was a huge moment. But just because it's arriving with a whisper rather than a roar, don't discount Windows Azure. We are officially one step closer to business at the speed of thought.

Why do you think the Windows Azure launch was so quiet? Let me know at [email protected].

About the Author

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