Microsoft's Windows Azure cloud computing service became generally available on Monday with very little flourish. And that might be because this first wave of Azure offerings is frankly a bit odd.
I am sure Microsoft will eventually figure out how to give its users options that are more obviously appealing (perhaps using Amazon Web Services as the model?), but in the near-term the options are not as clear as they could be.
It's still a positive for cloud enthusiasts that Azure has finally reached a place where Microsoft is comfortable offering it commercially. And if you're part of the Azure team, you have to be glad to have any solidification of just what the offerings are.
In many ways, Microsoft is applying the same enterprise architecture principles to the cloud--with pricing variables for consumption, storage, and even integration with other applications. This may not actually be wrong over time, but it forces developers and users to think through the usage of the cloud components that they have no experience with.
I suspect this approach is due to the operating system-centric view that Microsoft takes of pretty much all technology. After all, they do call it a cloud operating system and it looks as though everything on top forms the stack, leaving users to not have to think about the OS. Again, not necessarily wrong, but the platform hasn't yet been explained or marketed well-enough to see the results.
That approach is in contrast to AWS EC2 or Rackspace, as Om Malik notes, suggesting that compared to "infrastructure-as-a-service providers such as Amazon with Ec2 or Rackspace with its CloudServers products, Azure attempts to handle more of the actual management and provisioning of virtual machines for a user."
I highly doubt that Azure will have much effect on Microsoft's near-term or even medium-term revenue (either positive or negative). What's important is that Azure has put a stake in the ground for Microsoft to be a part of enterprise cloud discussions as well as opening up Azure to the developer masses who provide invaluable testing and feedback.
Cloud computing in general needs Microsoft to be a part of the ecosystem. And while I am not convinced Azure is anywhere near right yet, Microsoft has plenty of resources to put toward the effort. Let's hope it does.