It is odd to see a company filled with open source wonks excited about working closely with Microsoft. However, the guys in Redmond have a pretty strong vision for cloud computing in Azure – one that I personally feel is different than anyone making a major play for the cloud.
Why? Well, for a number of reasons. For one, Microsoft is looking at the cloud as less of a compute power play as many of the early cloud players saw it, and more of a distributed business stack, available at any time and with scale. What I mean is, Microsoft is probably the most application focused cloud player out there. (Note: I don’t believe anything Salesforce.com does is really cloud computing.)
Microsoft owns, operates and understands a full service stack. This is a big benefit when porting to a cloud environment. While it may seem like a limitation, it is actually in my opinion a strong point. Microsoft is able to fully control the OS, database and web servers etc. as it creates a cloud environment. Sure, there is a proprietary aspect – but most of the apps running on top of Azure will not touch anything other than the database in any profound manner.
Other cloud providers are working with a few distributions of Linux and other open source back end components – which is great for economy and scale – but these providers do not “own” the system entirely. It’s just a “nice to have” Microsoft has in its favor.
Another big factor is that Microsoft has been playing more of an interoperability game with Azure than it ever has – as far as I’ve seen. I mean, they are working closely with us, a PHP-based application, to make sure Azure can support apps written in as many languages as possible. This is a major development (in a good way) from even a couple years ago when IIS was not the ideal web server for running PHP apps (to put it lightly).
All told, when it comes to applications in the cloud, it will be the large scale providers – not the small, limited vendor-hosted SaaS providers that will realize the potential of running your business in the cloud. Vendor-hosted SaaS is great for some companies and a lot of different business needs, but for truly cloud-based operations – these guys fall short. It is great to see companies like Microsoft supporting the notion of the Open Cloud.