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At its recent Convergence conference Microsoft unveiled plans to develop cloud versions of its Dynamics ERP applications by adapting them to run on the company's Windows Azure cloud computing platform.
Azure has been available since Feb. 1, 2010 and Microsoft has been promoting it as the cloud development platform for ISVs and partners. Some observers noted the irony that it took Microsoft more than a year to commit to developing its own applications on Azure -- that's a long time to wait to eat your own dog food, as it were.
It's too early to say whether Azure will succeed in the market place. There have been posted reports of customers discontinuing their Azure subscriptions and of Microsoft paying ISVs to port their applications to the Platform-as-a-Service (PaaS) system. In February Microsoft offered cloud programmers a free trial of Windows Azure in an effort to boost interest in the development platform.
Other red flags: In January CEO Steve Ballmer ousted Bob Muglia from his job overseeing the company's $15-billion Server and Tools Business, of which Azure is part, in what some viewed as Ballmer's dissatisfaction with the company's cloud progress. Even more ominous was the February departure of Amitabh Srivastava, a senior vice president in the Server and Tools Business who played a central role in developing Windows Azure.
Microsoft won't disclose how many Azure subscribers it has or how many developers are working with the platform. (Microsoft, in fact, did not provide an executive to comment for this story, instead providing written answers to questions through a spokesperson.)
Some Microsoft partners, nevertheless, have eagerly embraced Azure. "All of our applications, all of our intellectual property, we're developing on top of the Azure platform," said Aaron Nettles, CEO of Vorsite, a Seattle-based solution provider that's building its business around Microsoft's cloud offerings.
While Vorsite does resell Microsoft cloud products such as the Intune cloud-based PC management system and Business Productivity Online Suite (BPOS) applications, Nettles expects the bulk of the company's revenue to come from Azure-based custom applications and services. "It's exciting stuff," he said.
Others are taking a more cautious approach. "We're still figuring it out," said Dave Sobel, CEO of Evolve Technologies, a Microsoft partner in Fairfax, Va. Microsoft appeared to focus its initial Azure marketing efforts on developers and is just now starting to educate channel partners and IT managers about what they can do with it, he said.
Azure is a core element of Microsoft's cloud computing efforts and, as Ballmer said in his Convergence keynote, "Make no mistake, when it comes to the cloud, Microsoft's all in." So it's a fair assumption that Microsoft will do whatever it takes for Azure to be accepted by customers, channel partners and ISVs. And that means solution providers ignore Azure at their own peril.
"My sense is that it's still early days and the numbers are nowhere near where they will be when things are in full swing," said Andrew J. Brust, CTO at Tallan, a Microsoft gold partner, and CEO of Blue Badge Insights, a strategy consulting and advisory service company for Microsoft customers and partners. "What I can say is that the whole of Microsoft, including product groups that are otherwise separate and heterogeneous, are focused on this and it's going to happen."
Next: The Nuts And Bolts Of Azure