Microsoft betting everything on the cloud

TechEd saw Microsoft doubling down on Windows Azure. Will its cloud gamble pay off?

Microsoft is putting all of its power behind making its Windows Azure cloud offering stable and flexible. From what I've seen, it looks like this strategy will pay off.

I'm not sure I would have been this confident even six months ago, but compelling use cases highlighted at last week's TechEd conference expanded my sense of what is possible in the cloud. One example, a handheld ultrasound unit that utilized Azure on the back end, allowed technicians to perform ultrasounds with just a slate PC and an ultrasound mic. That kind of portability could benefit people all over the world.

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But where Microsoft makes its strongest argument for Azure is in its ability to provide solutions that bridge the gap between the public and private cloud. This can be seen in the development of such Microsoft products as Exchange, where you might have some of your mailboxes on-premises and some in the cloud through Office 365. Having the ability to manage both zones and to move mailboxes between them at will is an attractive pull for shops not yet ready to go all-in with hosted messaging.

Microsoft's System Center, code-named Concero, is an intriguing solution along those lines. System Center allows for deployment, management, monitoring, and provisioning of systems, applications, and services of both public and private cloud resources. I'll be discussing this solution in greater detail in a future column as we get closer to a release date.

Technologies like these demonstrate Microsoft's conviction to own the public cloud. I've often joked that Azure (aka "sky-blue") is a tell as to Microsoft's ambitions: It doesn't just want a cloud, it wants to take up the whole sky.

TechEd 2011 beyond the cloud

TechEd also saw a number of intriguing releases. Small Business Server 2011 Standard is the latest flavor of SBS, but the real focus is on Essentials and how it will tie into Office 365. Stay tuned, but suffice to say Microsoft is working on it. Between SBS, Home Server, and a variety of other solutions, I'd say 2011 is the year of the small business.

MultiPoint Server 2011 is another recent release not too many people know about. To date, it has been promoted as a great way to get a classroom up and running with Windows 7 systems as thin clients connected to a terminal services-like server. The server is easy to set up and has tools that allow teachers to control what their students are doing at any given time. A demonstration at TechEd set minds in motion on what else we can do with this box. Disaster relief seems to be an easy fit for something you can just plop down and operate in minutes.

Among the third-party releases that intrigued me, GSX Monitor stood out as a great tool for monitoring Exchange, SharePoint, Domino, BlackBerry Enterprise Servers, and more. The real-time monitoring dash was easy to work with. The install is apparently agent-less (for basic reporting), and it has all the reporting and analytic tools you would expect from a monitoring solution.

Another intriguing resource is Spoon.net, which lets you launch applications from the cloud without installing them on your desktop. Enterprises can check out Spoon Server (2011 version due June 6); with it, you can simplify app distribution through your organization via a private cloud.

Also of note was Falafel.com's EventBoard, a mobile app for the iPhone, Android, and Windows Phone 7 that made navigating TechEd (traditionally a nightmare task regardless of the location) a breeze. You could browse the sessions you wanted to attend, bookmark sessions, rate them afterward, and more. It included maps to help you get to your sessions as well, and frankly, it was better than the booklet issued to the audience. Obviously every conference is different, so organizers have to contact Falafel.com to get the details. But I can see this as a must for any show.

There was much more to report, but this is a taste.

This article, "Microsoft betting everything on the cloud," was originally published at InfoWorld.com. Read more of J. Peter Bruzzese's Enterprise Windows blog and follow the latest developments in Windows at InfoWorld.com. For the latest business technology news, follow InfoWorld.com on Twitter.

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