In Indian politics, there is a saying that you can never write anybody off. I say the same for software. After catching up a bit on Microsoft’s official India launch of its cloud computing platform last week, I think it is time to take the company very seriously all over again.
This could potentially be to software as a service what AT&T was to phone calls for decades.
Wait a minute, I only said “could.”
First, a recap: cloud computing is like piped municipal water, while old packaged/branded software is like bottled mineral water. Free and Open Source Software (FOSS) is a bit like using public taps. You can get storage, software platforms (operating system etc), end-use applications as well as computing infrastructure paid by usage like water in the cloud computing.
By offering software, platform and infrastructure as separate services, Microsoft is now pitching itself like a Bisleri or Aquafina suddenly offering clean water through your domestic or company pipes (broadband services).
You can always make catty remarks. Microsoft’s .NET platform for software applications is jokingly called “Bot Net” by its critics because of security flaws. Microsoft jokes about the safety of FOSS.
FOSS is sort of free, though you pay consultants (a bit like asking your servant to fetch water from a public tap and then filtering it). Microsoft’s Azure, from all indications, is cheap, with a variety.
Now, here is why I think Azure is important.
- It has priced itself economically in an emerging broadband environment and kept flexibility for users between platform, infrastructure and end-use applications.
- It has partnerships with companies that would “resell” or support or use Microsoft’s back-end platforms or infrastructure, which is a bit of a golden mean between the old desktop world and the new cloud.
- Its Operating Systems (like Windows) have dominated small businesses and home users for nearly three decades, and offer the comfort of the familiar.
- It has 3,400 applications in the cloud, and a community of developers for whom there could be a big boost in ease and a cut in costs
- Microsoft is rich in cash. Expect key acquisitions and predatory pricing sooner than you think.
But there is a flip side.
If cloud is like municipal water, the service guarantees to guard against “pollution” are high cost. Can Microsoft manage that? I am thinking of Toyota’s recent recalls after brake problems. Ownerships and quality guarantees at the right price are critical.
Rivals are not going to sit quiet. Google has its own operating system that is a Web-based one. This is a bit like a new game in which new entrants may capture growing markets, especially emerging ones.
Oracle’s acquisition of Sun Micro will make it a big one for large customers as cloud computing grows. My guess is that Azure will work for small and medium businesses like a wonder, keeping Microsoft strong in its traditional stronghold. The rest of the game is open, but loaded with potential groundshifts.