Photo courtesy of iStockphoto, Nadezda Firsova
Ever since Ballmer spilled the beans on the upcoming unveiling of Microsoft's "Cloud Operating System" scheduled to take place at this month's PDC (Professional Developer's Conference) in LA, I've been poking around for more hints on exactly what that is and how it will fit into the existing broad range of services offered under that label. There isn't a lot out there, which is unusual for even "skunk works" Microsoft projects, which tend to be long in the tooth and full of geeks eager to chat. We know that the company has been working on something internally dubbed "Red Dog" since early this year, at least, and that a host of other efforts have been underway in the company, from data center buildouts to revamping major enterprise applications into massive, hosted, services platforms, but it's unclear how, or even if, all of this will fit together into a unified offering of the sort that Ballmer apparently is referring to.
I find myself re-reading David Chappell's August whitepaper "A Short Introduction to Cloud Platforms" (misplaced the link, but I assume it's available on Microsoft's site somewhere) which was commissioned by the company as "An enterprise oriented view" of cloud computing. Chappell stresses the duality of on-premises and cloud applications, which echoes Microsoft's "Software+Services" mantra closely, and perhaps provides some insight into the company's direction. While most existing cloud platforms are intended to work primarily stand-alone (although they can certainly be integrated with on-premises or third-party services… such is their nature) it may be that Microsoft's platform will be designed to rely more heavily on existing on-premises applications and services. If that's the case, it could also explain the relatively short lead-time… if they didn't have to build the platform from scratch, or as an entirely stand-alone service, a great deal of leverage could be exacted from current product lines. Expect to see some integral components coming from places like BizTalk Server and, of course, Windows itself.
As I have said before, I think the Software+Services mantra is a good approach for Microsoft and potentially much more palatable to their existing customer base than the brave new world of SaaS. This approach to cloud computing may also find favor with current customers. I have to wonder, however, about the suitability of the platform as a true cloud service, at least as I define the term. I found it telling that the company finally (finally!) ripped the GUI out of its new dedicated hypervisor virtualization server, but it says something that a business attempting to offer performance-oriented servers insisted for so long on slapping an inefficient and resource-intensive GUI on their server operating system. They've worked hard to wedge the core Windows OS into almost everything they have done, including places it's not really best suited to be. If they have worked their cloud project up to speed on that basis, then it explains how it could be unveiled so quickly, but it may also mean that it's less well-suited to the large-scale platform services it is supposed to offer than some of its competitors.
Hopefully we'll find out more specifics in late October.