Microsoft Learning Lessons From The Cloud

That's one of the messages this week at Microsoft's TechEd North America conference in New Orleans, where company executives focused on the latest advancements in Azure, a cloud-based development and services platform that runs on servers in Microsoft data centers.

Microsoft debuted Azure as a paid service in February and now has "thousands of active users" running on the platform, said Bob Muglia, president of Microsoft's Server and Tools division, in an interview Monday. It's a promising start, but Microsoft is aware that customers may need some more time to get their heads around Azure and figure out where it fits into their businesses.

"It's early in the lifecycle, and people are still in stage of understanding what Azure can do. They're writing their first apps right now, and still learning. Any new technology is going to be that way until it's more understood," said Muglia.

When Microsoft launched its Business Productivity Online Suite in 2008, some partners were alarmed by its competitive implications and worried about losing business to Microsoft. For some of Microsoft's hosting partners, Azure represents a similar type of competitive threat at the moment.

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However, Muglia says partners will quickly realize that Azure, like BPOS, offers an avenue to doing business more effectively.

"When something is new, the natural reaction is to have fear, and to ask 'How will this affect my job?'" he said. "But there are real opportunities in this platform. Services like Azure and BPOS free up customers to put more energy on business problems instead of operations. "

One lesson Microsoft has learned in cloud computing is the need for multi-tenant support, something its products have lacked in the past.

"When you do things yourself, you realize the need for a shared cloud that enables multiple customers to work in it," Muglia said. "Our products were not designed to be multi-tenant, and hosting partners have struggled with how to deliver solutions to customers."

Companies like Google and Salesforce have built their offerings for the cloud from the ground up, and their view of the world doesn't include much of a role for on-premise software. But Muglia says Microsoft's focus on both on-premise and cloud offerings gives its customers more flexibility than cloud-only players.

"Google and Salesforce are much narrower in what they target. They don't give customers choice because they don’t have on-premise," said Muglia.