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Microsoft's Azure Strategy Defined - InternetNews.
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Microsoft's Azure Strategy Defined

Microsoft Chief Software Architect Ray Ozzie
Ray Ozzie, Microsoft's chief software architect, speaking at PDC 2008

LOS ANGELES – The introduction of Windows Azure today at the Professional Developer's Conference seems to put Microsoft on a collision course with every app hosting vendor on the market, in particular Salesforce.com.

Doug Hauger, general manager of the cloud infrastructure services unit at Microsoft (NASDAQ: MSFT), said the problem Microsoft is attempting to solve is one of scale when moving internal applications to the Internet. In an interview with InternetNews.com, Hauger elaborated on the benefits and strategy behind the announcement of Azure Monday by Microsoft's chief software architect, Ray Ozzie.

"There are a lot of problems out there that are not being solved and they are not being solved for one reason: People are taking software built for on-premises and they are dumping it in the cloud. What we have done is to help build software for the cloud," Hauger said.

"The core theme is that in order to solve that problem for developers, we've got to give them the power of choice: in the cloud, on-premises or both," he added.

As one example, Hauger said a startup can build an application in Visual Studio and deploy to Azure for testing. If it takes off, the system will scale dynamically, he said.

For an enterprise, the same holds true in terms of building and testing. Enterprises developers have the option of leaving their application deployed on Azure for outward-facing customers, or moving it in-house to their own servers for internal use.

In both cases, Microsoft said Azure eliminates the need for deploying a major server infrastructure. This could prove to be especially valuable in today's cash-strapped scenarios where start-ups may not have the money to build out a new datacenter to host new applications.

A unique solution?

While the basic premise of software as a service (SaaS) companies, like Salesforce.com, is that they offload infrastructure costs, Hauger insists Microsoft is offering a more comprehensive solution.

"We don't believe there is anyone in the marketplace today doing what we're doing, and we think people are just starting to realize we are solving a difficult problem, which is how do you abstract the developer from having to worry about the infrastructure," Hauger said.

Salesforce, not surprisingly, saw it differently.

"Windows Azure is simply about moving complexity to the cloud," Bruce Francis, Salesforce's vice president of corporate strategy said in an e-mail to InternetNews.com. "This strategy isn't good for customer or developers."

"Azure's strategy of requiring customers and developers to manage a 'construct architecture' doesn't reduce complexity -- it just takes away its ZIP code," he said. "Microsoft still places the full burden of managing software operations on its customers and developers. But customers want to build their app and not worry about anything else."

Yet as Microsoft sees it, the Azure service means eliminating an awful lot of plumbing concerns for the developer. The underlying database, security, authentication, backup and integration are all handled by Microsoft, so the developer doesn't have to.

"What's great is you can just worry about what is the business logic for the app, how do you want it to integrate it with other apps and how do you provide it to your customers," Hauger said.

At the same time, Hauger said the applications and data are portable. If a company wants to move its database from Azure to in-house, the data can be streamed right off the servers. Applications can also be redeployed from the Azure network to internal networks.

"We heard that from so many customers; 'Don't lock me into a platform. Prove the platform is valuable and I'll come to it, and let me go where I want to go,'" Hauger said.

Microsoft Azure is available as a Community Technology Preview online.

Update adds comments from Salesforce.com.