Microsoft moves cloud towards mainstream

Last week Amazon announced that it had expanded its cloud computing offering (EC2) to encompass Microsoft Windows Server and Microsoft SQL Server. Many early incarnations of cloud have been strongly associated with open source software. However, there are a range of cloud offerings in the market or coming soon that combine the advantages of cloud with a ubiquitous Microsoft Windows environment.

Adoption of new technologies typically follows the cycle of innovator, early adopter, early majority, late majority and laggard - as famously described by Rogers. Until now cloud computing has definitely been in the innovator and early adopter stage. However, the more widespread availability of cloud offerings that are based around the Microsoft Windows and related technology platforms will begin to push cloud computing into the early majority stage in the next 12 months.

The initial Amazon EC2 offerings were launched two years ago and have gone through a steady increase in their usage since then, with many of the highly visible consumer Web 2.0 properties using elements of EC2.

The rationale was to reduce the initial cost of setting up its operations and as a cost effective way of scaling to meet peaks of capacity without having to own and provision physical hardware that is under-utilised at all other times.

Initial EC2 offerings were strongly associated with open source software stacks, via LAMP (Linux, Apache, MySQL and Perl/PHP/Python) and related offerings.

Microsoft Windows Server and Microsoft SQL Server are important platforms that support substantial workloads in major data centres. However, their utilisation - like more general data centre utilisation - can still be very low.

Virtualisation has been used as one way to increase usage, improve overall efficiency and reduce costs. Bringing Microsoft Windows-based cloud offerings into the equations gives additional ways to address the utilisation, capacity variability and overall cost-effectiveness challenges.

This is not a one-off. Microsoft has been moving into the Software plus Services area for some time now, with offerings such as Microsoft Live Mesh and Microsoft SQL Server Data Services. In the past month there have been rumours of more Microsoft cloud services, with CEO Steve Ballmer having been quoted about "˜Windows Cloud'. The Microsoft Professional Developer Conference will be the forum where the anticipated announcements take place.

However, nobody should assume that Microsoft will be the only company that aims to bring cloud services based on Microsoft Windows to market. A slew of Microsoft partners are able to offer cloud services and will continue to do so - even after Microsoft expands it portfolio.

We should assume that there will be strong competition in the market and that customers need to make sure that they are genuinely able to move between suppliers, to help unlock the promises that cloud offers.

David Mitchell, SVP IT Research