Channeling the Cloud

Microsoft Ready for Cloud Battle with Amazon

Nearly a year after disclosing plans to take on Amazon Web Services in the cloud, Microsoft Windows Azure Infrastructure Services is now available.

For those who haven't followed the saga of Windows Azure, the Microsoft cloud service has paled in comparison to Amazon's portfolio of cloud services.

It isn't just Amazon that has left Windows Azure in the dust; other Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS) alternatives from the likes of Rackspace, Verizon Terremark, Dimension Data, and a number of other large hosting and telecom providers also are able to offer raw elastic compute and storage services.

Microsoft's cloud deficit has nothing to do with price, reliability or availability. Windows Azure started in early 2010 as a Platform as a Service (PaaS) with its own set of core services, but it lacked the IaaS layer that has made Amazon by far the most widely used enterprise cloud services provider by blue chip customers such as Bristol Myers Squibb, Nasdaq OMX and Netflix. That has left Microsoft out of the lucrative game of hosting instances of Windows Server, SQL Server, SharePoint, BizTalk and Exchange.

Though Microsoft promised infrastructure services from the outset, the company only officially announced it a year ago and (after a long beta test period) made Windows Azure Infrastructure Services available April 16, 2013, promising a price war with Amazon. Many think it could take years before Microsoft catches up with Amazon -- if it ever does. Take Jeff Aden, president of 2nd Watch, a Seattle-based systems integrator that has deployed 200 core production enterprise systems using Amazon.

"We think Amazon has a three- to four-year head start on product depth and pricing and a decade on global infrastructure," says Aden, an Amazon partner who tells me he's looking at what others have to offer, including Rackspace and Windows Azure. "You're talking potentially five to 10 years out until there's a serious contender."

While most acknowledge Amazon's lead in the cloud, some might beg to differ with the challenge its rivals are facing in catching up.

Others I've talked to believe Windows Azure will be a serious contender. One person who likes its chances is Wade Wegner, the original director of Windows Azure technical development at Microsoft and now CTO at Aditi Technologies. Aditi offers cloud services from both Amazon and Microsoft. Already Wegner says Aditi is seeing early interest from customers who want to host SQL Server and SharePoint instances in Windows Azure.

Though it's still early days for Windows Azure version 2, so to speak, Microsoft has incubation sales teams in the United States that work directly with enterprises interested in moving workloads to Windows Azure, Wegner explains. "Since it went GA, a lot of companies said they want to move existing workloads to Windows Azure," he says.

Over time, Amazon, Microsoft and Google (whose IaaS offering Google Compute Engine is still in beta) will be the largest cloud infrastructure providers, predicts Ashar Baig, founder of the Analyst Connection. But managed services providers aren't going to back one horse, he predicts. "They're going to use multiple providers in the future."

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.


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