Windows Azure: Blue skies ahead?

Analysts praise Microsoft's ambition with its Azure cloud-computing effort, but say that getting there will take some time.

LOS ANGELES--Analysts and enthusiasts offered largely positive reaction to Microsoft's announcement of Windows Azure on Monday, impressed at the scale of Microsoft's bet on the cloud.

"I think it is very ambitious, extremely ambitious," said Gartner analyst David Smith. He noted that Microsoft is trying to span a broad range of audiences, from enterprise to consumer, and a broad range of devices.

That very ambition also means that it will take a while before Azure is ready for prime time, Smith said. Still, he was impressed at Microsoft's overall approach. "I think it's a very visionary, pragmatic idea."

In announcing Windows Azure , Microsoft said it was releasing a community technology preview of the effort. Developers can build applications and host them on Microsoft's servers for free, though the company will start charging once it has nailed down the features and made sure everything is ready for business applications.

Windows Azure tools
A common set of tools can be used for developing applications for traditional Windows as well as for Windows Azure, according to Microsoft.

The economic downturn could serve to drive adoption within companies looking to cut costs, said Robert McLaws, chief blogger at Windows-now.com.

"Why pay for your own data center and staff when you can move it to Microsoft? Let Microsoft do the investment for you," he said. "It provides an interesting opportunity for start ups who are looking to build apps efficiently and to test ideas."

For Microsoft, Windows Azure is nothing less than a make-or-break move, said Jonathan Yarmis, vice president for disruptive technologies at AMR Research.

"I think they've said we have no choice but to succeed at this. To leave it to Google or Amazon or others to define the pace and characteristics of the platform would be very bad for Microsoft's long-term and even near-term prospects," he said. Microsoft's thinking would have to be: "We have to do this or we cease to be interesting as a company."

Microsoft faces a well-established Amazon hosted services market and a popular development platforms for the iPhone and Google apps.

"The start-up guys love what Amazon's doing. They don't need millions of dollars to buy infrastructure. Now you click a button to provision some servers and bang, you've got a solution," Yarmis said. "Amazon has offered the developers a really easy way to quickly deploy potentially massive-scale applications."

Microsoft is being purposely vague on the schedule for the services so as to attract and retain developer support, he said.

If Microsoft were to lose the developer community to a platform that's not in its control, that would mark a long slide into irrelevance, so they've got to win the developers,Yarmis said.

"Let's not underestimate what they're trying to do here...perhaps the most complex programming undertaking ever conceived. Given their track record, (do) we have to at least say is there a scenario where they crash and burn here? Yeah there is," he said. "But if they can deliver in reasonable time frames, can anyone touch them?"

Ina Fried of CNET News contributed to this report.

 

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