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Will Microsoft Be Successful in the Cloud?

Among a lot of competitors, Microsoft has challenges to overcome

When you think of IT vendors and cloud computing, companies like Amazon and Google first come to mind because they are very successful with start-ups that leverage their cloud services. HP, IBM and Oracle are making big strides primarily by targeting large enterprises with private cloud solutions. Cisco, EMC and Intel are primarily technology vendors serving as arms providers to cloud service providers. Microsoft falls in a unique category that dominates certain IT segments and covers customers ranging from start-ups, consumers and large enterprises. The recent Microsoft Build conference provided many opportunities to learn about a range of the company's cloud computing capabilities.

The following are some key aspects of Microsoft's cloud capabilities that I observed at Build:

In-house Experience:
The best way to gauge customer requirements is to use your own cloud services. Microsoft's keynote presentations on the second day of the conference emphasized the experience of using their own technology for consumer-facing solutions like Skype, Outlook.com and Bing. Other than Amazon and Google, few cloud service providers can claim such extensive use of its own products. This gives customers confidence that cloud services have been tried and tested under challenging circumstances.

End-to-end Capabilities:
On the first day of the conference, Microsoft honed in on multiple device support. The focus was on features supporting "develop once/use over any interface" models capable of supporting multiple devices and platforms. Many attendees welcomed this, as they did Microsoft's support for open standards via solutions to run on non-Microsoft devices like Android and iOS.

One key capability Microsoft demonstrated was Visual Studio integration with Azure on the second day. Enterprises are yearning for a simple solution to overcome the perennial problem of best leveraging available skills to deliver products in a timely manner. Integrating Microsoft's popular Visual Studio development platform to Azure will promote cloud adoption by enterprises.

Partnerships:
Cloud solutions are best built through assembly of an application from multiple services. As a result, partnerships help IT vendors deliver better capabilities to their customer and are a key Microsoft focus.

The company's new partnership with Oracle gives their mutual customers the confidence that Oracle products are certified to run on Azure as well as adding Oracle's endorsement for Hyper-V virtualization.

There is significant interest by CMOs to leverage cloud technology for digital marketing initiatives using the mobile platform to transform consumer experience. Microsoft's partnership with Adobe gives customers a unique tool to combine Adobe Creative Cloud on Windows 8 with Azure to deliver an end-to-end marketing solution.

Customer experience:
The annual Super Bowl is one of the world's premier sports events, drawing a huge television audience both in the U.S. and across the globe. But in recent years, the UEFA Champions League draws an even larger audience than the Super Bowl, so it only makes sense for UEFA sponsors to want to leverage the cloud in delivering a reliable and scalable marketing campaign.

There are numerous examples of successful start-ups building cloud solutions on Amazon & Google. At the Microsoft Build conference, I was pleasantly surprised to meet folks from Heineken who explained their use of Azure to deliver a social pinball game to millions of users during a recent UEFA Champions League tournament.

One of the biggest challenges to enterprise IT organizations supporting marketing is to be ready for unexpected spikes in usage. Microsoft announced an auto-scaling feature for Azure at the conference that gives a powerful tool to web developers to better meet unexpected usage spikes and similar challenges.

Developer Outreach:

During the conference, I interacted with a number of attendees, some of whom shared their experiences in leveraging Microsoft platforms. One partner discussed building solutions for law enforcement agencies leveraging Azure. Interestingly, smaller agencies wanted the entire solution to be hosted on Azure. Most of the 6000 attendees were from the developer community and wield an increasing influence on picking technology for IT solutions. Microsoft is well positioned to leverage this segment to promote Azure capabilities without infrastructure skills.

While Microsoft is making significant inroads in supporting open standards, I noticed that their own media delivery is often tied exclusively to Silverlight. In my opinion, the many users would like Microsoft to enable their materials to be consumed on non-Silverlight capable platforms too.
Note: After initial publishing, Microsoft stated that they also allow developers to support HTML5

Final Thoughts
When Microsoft invited me to attend their Build conference, I had expectations of another enterprise IT vendor going to push their exclusive cloud strategy. However, I came away from Build impressed with Microsoft's overall capability to deliver exactly what enterprises would be interested in. The big challenge for Microsoft will be to draw users outside its traditional ecosystem to try out and embrace their integrated Azure platform.

Disclaimer: Microsoft is one of my customers and paid travel expenses with free admission to the Build conference.

This post was first published on Robustcloud.com. Republished with permission.

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Larry Carvalho runs Robust Cloud LLC, an advisory services company helping various ecosystem players develop a strategy to take advantage of cloud computing. As the 2010-12 Instructor of Cloud Expo's popular Cloud Computing Bootcamp, he has already led the bootcamp in New York, Silicon Valley, and Prague, receiving strong positive feedback from attendees about the value gained at these events. Carvalho has facilitated all-day sessions at customer locations to set a clear roadmap and gain consensus among attendees on strategy and product direction. He has participated in multiple discussion panels focused on cloud computing trends at information technology events, and he has delivered all-day cloud computing training to customers in conjunction with CloudCamps. To date, his role has taken him to clients in three continents.