Will Microsoft Azure Catch On With MSPs?

Will Microsoft Azure Catch On With MSPs?

Microsoft Windows Azure for Managed Service ProvidersMicrosoft's new cloud service -- known as Azure -- has multiple implications for managed service providers and the IT channel.

According to the software giant, Microsoft is positioning Azure to help MSPs:

"build new applications in the cloud -- or use interoperable services that run on Microsoft infrastructure to extend and enhance your existing applications. You choose what’s right for you."
That's a pretty generic statement. So, what exactly is Azure? Let's take a closer look.

First, Azure has five target markets:
  1. Web developers
  2. Corporate Developers
  3. ISVs (independent software vendors)
  4. Systems integrators
  5. Business decision makers
Although Microsoft doesn't mention MSPs by name as an Azure target, it's clear many MSPs are also Web developers and systems integrators.

Rival Services

Generally speaking, Azure is a software cloud hosted in Microsoft data centers. Think of it as Microsoft's answer to Amazon Simple Storage Service (S3) and Amazon Web Services. And in other ways, Azure is Microsoft's answer to Ingram Micro's Seismic services for MSPs.

Think of Azure as a new version of Windows running in a Microsoft cloud. The Azure platform will host services involving SQL Server, SharePoint, Dynamics CRM and so on. But Azure is not a "hosting" platform for applications. Rather, Windows Server continues forward to host those applications.

Or, think of Azure in terms of this graphic:

Microsoft Windows Azure

Can You Trust Microsoft's Cloud?

Will Azure work as advertised? I'm skeptical for a few reasons -- but I've also learned not to bet against Microsoft.

In the 1990s when skeptics dismissed Microsoft's Windows NT Server and BackOffice strategies, the software company managed to topple both Novell NetWare (completely) and Unix (partially).

Can Microsoft repeat that success in the cloud while striving to compete with Amazon, Google and other growing cloud services? I'll offer a "definite maybe." Skeptics point out that Microsoft's core expertise is developing software -- not running data centers and hosting applications.

But don't forget, Microsoft has quietly built an on-demand cloud for XBox Live. Thousands of gamers are hooked on those online games. And it's a safe bet Microsoft's XBox Live team has taught the Azure folks a few lessons about the right -- and wrong -- way to build cloud services.

The MSP Connection

Where do MSPs and VARs fit into Azure? Ideally, MSPs will be able to plug their customers into multiple back-end cloud services (Amazon, Google, Microsoft, etc.). We're already seeing companies like Vembu linking their managed storage software to Amazon's S3 service.

The same trend will occur in the Windows world, where thousands of on-premise application developers will rewrite their applications to communicate with Azure. It will happen. But remember: It took about seven or eight years for Microsoft to build its Windows NT and BackOffice businesses.

Microsoft doesn't have the luxury of time as it strives to compete with open source SaaS, Google and all the other clouds on the horizon.

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