The latest round of Azure announcements didn’t take anyone by surprise. If anything, most cloud folks with an interest in Azure had been waiting to see when, not if, persistent virtual machines for running applications in the cloud would come out—not to mention the ability to run Linux instances with support. And yet for all of Microsoft’s resources, it’s quite surprising that the company’s innovative steps in the cloud have largely centered around executing as a slow follower to much more resource-constrained competitors.
Make no mistake–I really like Azure. My company has ported several projects to Azure (from on-premise to cloud) and there’s much to like. But as a company plunging into the cloud, Microsoft finds itself in something of a strange position.
In the PC realm, consumers tend to choose Windows over a Linux-equipped desktop. Linux may be less crash prone, have thousands of apps, and run on the same PC hardware—but at the very end of the day, isn’t it just a Windows wannabe? (Note to zealots: I’m not talking about Linux servers, a heavyweight and oft-chosen option for servers both on-premise and off.) Why choose a near-even alternate when the cost of the incumbent is more or less the same?
However, Microsoft doesn’t have that sort of dominant advantage in the cloud, where a variety of other companies are displaying lots of disruptive innovation. And the fact that we can reliably run services in the cloud alone is no small feat (although larger issues of indemnification and security–just to name two–loom ahead). The sacrificial companies pushing the envelope—startups primarily–are the ones contributing that real innovation, even as the rulers on Cloud Mount Olympus compete on price and baseline capability.
To which I plead: please, Microsoft, lead in the cloud! The speed at which the cloud evolves will depend on how fast and hard companies push against the borders of what can be done. That means inevitable mistakes: but hey, with mistakes like Kin as a high watermark, it’s hard to go wrong.
All this leads me to a personal experience that happened many years ago. I was playing racquetball with a good friend of mine–and lost. I was a pretty good player at the time and the loss was a bit of a surprise. After the game, Gary told me his reason for winning: “I was able to get you to play my game, not yours.” No matter how good my low shots were, he was just as good at getting me to return to his strong side. I played to his game–and lost.
Thus, it’s easy to understand how simple it is to play someone else’s game. Until Microsoft figures that out, it will continue to play a distant second to Amazon and others.