Windows Azure Positioned to Battle Amazon Cloud

Microsoft has updated its Windows Azure services for developers. But how will the new features affect the company’s battle with Amazon, Oracle and other companies for control of the business-cloud space?

Those new features include Infrastructure-as-a-Service (IaaS) layer and persistent virtual machines for running both Windows and Linux applications in the cloud. On top of that, the updated Azure features new language libraries for Java, PHP, Node.js, and .NET, as well as the ability to bring customized Linux images into the Azure cloud environment.

The addition of an IaaS layer allows Microsoft’s platform to join what one analyst describes as the mainstream. “The new IaaS service is clearly designed with at least surface knowledge of the market leaders, Amazon Web Services, Rackspace and others,” James Staten, an analyst with Forrester, wrote in a June 6 blog posting, “and leverages a much more mature Hyper-V as the virtualization layer.” That’s in addition to the support for both Linux and Windows, which could increase Azure’s potential usefulness to developers.

Moreover, the focus on IaaS expands the potential user base for Azure as a whole. Unlike Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) and Platform-as-a-Service (PaaS), which are usable by non-technical employees or those with very specific skills (i.e., those able to develop an application but not configure and maintain the resources beneath it), setting up and managing IaaS requires considerable experience and knowledge.

“The appeal of IaaS lies only with the most sophisticated developers,” Staten wrote, “who must have the skills and experience to properly configure, manage and maintain all the layers—and there are far fewer of these developers than anyone else.” By combining IaaS and PaaS on a single platform, Microsoft can potentially capture a broad developer audience.

Those developers could appreciate Azure’s expanded virtualization capabilities. “The service appears to be based on the forthcoming Windows Server 2012,” he added, “as it offers up the impressive virtual networking services from that OS which let you set up VPNs back to your data center, Virtual Private Clouds (VPC) and other network constructs that create secure non-public perimeters, and let you fluidly move IPs with the VMs and PaaS-based applications you deploy.”

Another analyst, Rob Enderle of the Enderle Group, saw the Azure upgrades as placing Microsoft even more toe-to-toe against “most of the big public cloud providers.”

Certainly Amazon is the proverbial 800-pound gorilla in this particular room, having evolved over the years into a go-to company for developers and organizations in need of cloud services. Its success has attracted competition from a number of directions—not only companies such as Microsoft seeking their own cloud empire, but also a variety of hosting companies and startups wanting to become the next big cloud service.

But the cloud is also a rapidly evolving space, which means that all companies are continually looking to upgrade their existing projects in a way that earns them some sort of advantage with developers and IT pros. Microsoft has just made its move; the question now is how others in the space will respond.


Image: Microsoft