Microsoft, the sleeping giant of the cloud

With its vast portfolio of software and billions of dollars in data center infrastructure investment, Microsoft stands poised to rule the cloud

We're accustomed to thinking of Microsoft as a lumbering giant encumbered by its PC legacy. But think about it: What other company in the world has such a massive collection of software and services to offer through the cloud, not to mention the cloud infrastructure to deliver it?

Microsoft has the resources to crush it. The question, as usual, is how well it can execute.

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Brad Anderson, corporate vice president of the Cloud and Enterprise division at Microsoft, helps oversee a big chunk of the private and public cloud portfolio: Windows Server, System Center, SQL Server, Windows Azure, and Visual Studio. InfoWorld Executive Editor Doug Dineley and I spoke with him for over an hour last week. In particular, our conversation focused on the connection between Windows Server and Azure, although we began by addressing the commitment Microsoft has made to its public cloud.

Gearing up for dominance

The Microsoft reorg changed the name of Microsoft's Server and Tools division to the Cloud and Enterprise division. But according to Anderson, little changed in terms of responsibility, except that Global Foundation Services became part of his group. These are the guys who are responsible for Microsoft's entire data center infrastructure, including Azure data centers.

I had heard Microsoft was investing heavily, but still, I was surprised by the scale. "We think that we were the No. 1 purchaser of servers in the world last year," says Anderson. "Every six months we're having to double our compute and our storage capacity. To give you a frame, in the last three years we've spent over $15 billion on cap ex."

That's one heck of a cloud launching pad. Plus, although Office 365 is outside Anderson's purview, he couldn't resist noting it reached a $1 billion annual run rate faster than any product in Microsoft history (although some have questioned that claim). In addition, back in June, Azure general manager Steven Martin claimed that the number of Azure customers had risen to 250,000 and was increasing at the rate of 1,000 per day.

No doubt many of those Azure customers were drawn by Microsoft's decision in mid-2012 to offer plain old IaaS (as opposed to PaaS), which InfoWorld's Peter Wayner characterized as having "great price-performance, Windows toolchain integration, and plenty of open source options." You can bet a bunch of customers will also discover Azure by crossing the bridge Microsoft is building between Windows Server and System Center on the one hand, and Azure services on the other.

The boundaryless data center

The overarching message is that Windows Server customers can now use Azure as an extension to their local server infrastructure. "We're the only organization in the world delivering consistency across privately hosted and public clouds," Anderson says. "You're not going to be locked into a private or to a public cloud. You can dev and test in Azure, deploy on private. You can move your virtual machine up into Azure without changing a line of code, without changing your IT processes."

Anderson also claims technology development on Azure is being ported to Windows Server. "The ability to take direct-attached storage, have all of the content replicated, tiering ... all those kinds of pieces come from Azure," he said, referring to Windows Server 2012's Storage Spaces and the new storage functionality in Windows Server 2012 R2.

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