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Microsoft looks for silver lining in cloud computing

Microsoft looks for silver lining in cloud computing

By all means send computer applications into the ether, Microsoft says, but only if you really have to.

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

interacting.

"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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