When it comes to "cloud computing", there's the way most technology vendors are doing it, and then there's Microsoft's way. Google, Amazon.com and Salesforce.com are just some of the emerging cloud-computing players who have proclaimed that an internet browser is all businesses need to tap into web-based software services.
Unsurprisingly, Microsoft with its back catalogue of operating systems that run on anything from a laptop to a server to a mobile phone, feels differently.
Gianpaolo Carraro, a senior director of architecture strategy at Microsoft's headquarters in Redmond, Washington, says a world without myriad devices that can operate independently or on a network would be
a "sad" one.
Coming from perhaps the most vested interest in the software industry, it's not the most convincing argument. However, Carraro argues that markets like Australia are among those with the most to gain from Microsoft's cloud strategy.
In Microsoft's vision of the cloud, businesses would choose to keep some technology assets operating in-house, while sending others out onto the web, much like selective sourcing.
"I've been wrong before in predicting the future," Carraro explains.
"But certainly a lot of the interest that is happening is with this notion that the data centre is a very complex beast, and there is a lot of stuff running there that businesses would rather not run themselves.
"There is a difference between commodity workloads in data centres and competitive differentiating workloads.
"A lot of the enterprises we've been discussing this with are quite
happy to investigate how they would offload the non-competitive
differentiating workloads they currently run, into infrastructure with
greater economies of scale that we would be running."
For instance, a business might choose to keep all its analytics
in-house but push email out into the cloud, he says. Alternatively,
businesses might run their applications in-house most of the time but
draw excess capacity from the internet in peak times, a practice
dubbed "cloud bursting".
Carraro, who was in Australia last week with Microsoft chief executive
Steve Ballmer and senior Windows evangelist Tim Sneath to brief
software developers on Windows Azure and Windows 7, argues there are a
number of reasons why computer users would opt to run some software
in-house, beyond competitive advantage.
One reason close to home for Australian businesses is bandwidth
constraints. Carraro says these limitations could have unexpected
benefits for local cloud services users because they force
organisations to be smarter about the way they tap into the cloud.
"You don't have to run a cloud-only environment," he explains.
"I think you have a better strategy when bandwidth becomes a
constraint because you can leverage the offline element of it. You can
take advantage of device storage and you can create applications that
are more resilient to variability in bandwidth. That said, more
bandwidth is better as a general term. But by embracing a model that
is a separated model, where you have services and software locally, I
think you can have a more appropriate structure."
"Software plus services" is the heart of Microsoft's spin on cloud
computing, and it is spruiking the term in an attempt to differentiate
its take from that of Salesforce.com, which relies on the more
traditional software as a service (SaaS) model.
Carraro argues that Microsoft's model gives businesses more choice and
would also help governments to address issues such as requirements to
leave citizen data onshore.
Software plus services customers, however, would need to maintain a
greater amount of in-house hardware and software infrastructure than
an SaaS user. That diminishes some of the capital and operating cost
benefits that cloud computing offers.
But while cloud service providers such as Microsoft and Salesforce.com
may disagree on the best model, they do agree that interest in the
concept is growing fast in mature computing markets. They also both
believe that cloud computing will provide benefits for consumers who
are already familiar with a number of cloud services as well as
corporate and government organisations.
Echoing words computer industry followers are more used to hearing
from Google, Carraro argues that Windows Azure will help to open up
the web to a larger number of consumer-oriented online software
developers. "There are obviously a lot of opportunities around social
networking but there is a massive barrier to entry because of the
infrastructure that is required to just have 5 million people
"By removing that barrier to entry by democratising the infrastructure
that's required to build these type of applications, I think we're
going to see a lot of innovation in consumer-oriented apps," he says.
Multinational organisations also have a lot to gain, he adds.
Businesses that operate throughout the world would be able to provide
more consistent applications and services to their employers by
pushing some services out to the cloud.
To support that concept, Microsoft is in the midst of building a
series of $US500 million datacentres in the US as part
of its cloud computing push.
Carraro says this shows Microsoft is not a last-minute entrant to the
cloud computing market, but has been hashing out its plans over many
years. But he also says it's a stake in the ground for a software
developer that is intent on becoming a central player in cloud
services, and that has the financial wherewithal to achieve that goal.
That means it will be building many more pricey data centres around
the world as it looks for an edge on the competition.
Fairfax Business Media
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