As expected, during his keynote address at the Microsoft Professional Developer's Conference (PDC) in LA, chief software architect Ray Azure Services Platform.unveiled the company's anticipated cloud solution: the
Azure delivers all the services and capabilities we have been conditioned to expect from a cloud service by Amazon and other current cloud providers: Azure itself for scalable storage and processing instances, SQL Services for database hosting and reporting, and .NET Services for business layer logic and workflow. The company is also lumping in Live services, with the existing Sharepoint and consumer-oriented sharing and sync services, and hosted Dynamics CRM, which are existing services that seem somewhat peripheral but serve to pad out the press release. Interestingly, the hosted Exchange service that is in development was not mentioned, although it could certainly have been included using the same logic as the Live services. The company did say, however, it will be using Azure to host its own services, which implies there will be more to come. It is also a good signal as to the company's commitment to the success of the platform; I find it easier to trust businesses, such as Amazon, which are rolling out these services as integral components to other parts of their business.
The meat on the table is the processing and storage functions, along with the database hosting, and the utensils will be existing Microsoft development technologies and processes: .NET, Visual Studio, and SQL Server.
This is a smart move on Microsoft's part; as Tim O'Reilly pointed out just last week, the API layer and development environment are precisely where Amazon Web Services are lacking. Microsoft has had much practice and excellent results in the past leveraging developers to dominate a market, and they're sticking with the same playbook moving into this market segment. The Tools for Visual Studio link is broken on the Azure website at the moment, but the company is promising to allow developers to use their existing skills and familiar standards to extend their work into the Azure platform. If it in fact proves to be so easy, a flood of cloud service development could open up in Azure almost by default.
Microsoft is also in the unusual position of providing remarkable flexibility in the offering. The "Software+Service" mantra that has been scoffed at repeatedly by many true believers is turning into a very appealing pitch to CIOs who don't want to be told they have to run all their stuff in the cloud and who would like to transition services partially or at their own pace from internal hosting. This is consistent with Microsoft's virtualization approach as well, and I think it's a very powerful selling point. From the company that many people associate with the phrase "product lock in" we're seeing some of the most open and accessible options for leveraging utility computing services. I obviously don't mean this in a technical sense (you won't be running Linux on Azure anytime soon) but from a practical "where can I run this and how can I access it" standpoint, Microsoft is bundling together a lot of options that other platform providers are not offering at all or are relying on third parties to develop. One stop shopping is no bad thing in this economic climate.
Pricing and plans have not been announced yet.