Microsoft Taking Its Cloud Message To The Masses

Microsoft last week launched "Cloud Power," a global ad campaign that focuses on the differences between public and private cloud computing infrastructure as well as the productivity gains the cloud makes possible. On the consumer side, Microsoft is invoking the battle cry of "To the cloud" in its marketing for Windows 7 and Windows Live, possibly to replace "all-in" as the company's cloud computing mantra-of-choice.

Channel partners believe that tackling confusion that exists in the cloud computing market is a shrewd, if extremely challenging undertaking on Microsoft's part. Customers are hearing messaging around private and public clouds but often have no idea which option best suits their needs.

"Ninety-nine percent of people using the term 'cloud computing' have no idea what the words mean," said Ron Herardian, president of Global System Services, a Mountain View, Calif.-based solution provider. "But that doesn't stop them from believing that everything's better 'in the cloud' and it doesn't stop companies from selling cloud based solutions."

As is often the case with new technologies, partners are taking the lead in defogging things.

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"Partners have the very tough job of helping customers determine whether public cloud, private cloud or a hybrid approach is the best option," said Ric Opal, vice president of Peters & Associates, an Oakbrook Terrace, Ill.-based solution provider. "The long-term value proposition for partners is helping customers figure out how business policies and processes translate in each cloud scenario."

Rick Oppedisano, executive director of partner and channel Sales at Azaleos, a Seattle-based Microsoft partner, estimates that 80 to 90 percent of his customers ask about cloud during the initial sales call. "They ask us how we define cloud, what we do with private clouds, and whether we integrate aspects of public cloud in our offerings," he said.

Microsoft, which has been banging the cloud computing drum for the past 8 months, is now starting to shape the discussion in a meaningful way. The enormity of this task, and its implications for Microsoft's ability to claw its way to the top of the cloud computing heap, isn't lost on partners.

"Microsoft has been slow to the cloud, but they're now taking control of that message in the market," said Oppedisano. "This is a savvy move on their part. You don't hear Google trying to explain the meaning of public, private or hybrid clouds."

Microsoft plans to host around 200 Cloud Power events worldwide in an effort to reach some 50,000 IT professionals and decision makers, and it's also giving partners the option of hosting their own Cloud Power campaigns.

Cloud Power ads will roll out in print, online, radio, and television in the coming weeks and will center on products like Office 365 (formerly known as BPOS), Windows Azure and Windows Server Hyper-V.