Cloud efforts examined by Microsoft and others

Representatives of major companies like Google, Sun, and Salesforce offered perspectives on the hosted apps concept, seeing both potential and problems

Established vendors weighed in on cloud computing at Microsoft's Silicon Valley offices on Friday afternoon, citing it as a dramatic shift but offering caution as well.

During a panel session at the TechCrunch "Whose Cloud Is It Anyway?" event in Mountain View, Calif., vendors ranging from Microsoft and Salesforce.com to Google and Sun offered perspectives on the concept of cloud computing, which has users accessing hosted services over the Internet instead of maintaining their own hardware and software.

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"This is the biggest shift we've had in computing in probably two decades," said Salesforce.com CEO Marc Benioff, whose company offers on-demand CRM services over the Internet. 

"The opportunity is to re-create the industry," re-establish boundaries, and disable, dis-intermediate, and disrupt existing players, Benioff said.

Google's Vic Gundotra, vice president of engineering, stressed how the Web has caused a paradigm shift away from application lock-ins on platforms like Windows. "The Web has changed all that," Gundotra said. "In the war between Windows and the Web, the Web won."

But Yahoo's Scott Dietzen, senior vice president of communications products, cautioned about over-optimism toward the cloud. "I think we're being a little overly optimistic in saying that you can just take an application and put it into the cloud and this magic happens," he said.

For vertical applications, a huge amount of work goes into such tasks as delivering on linear scalability, self-healing, and troubleshooting, he said. "These are really hard problems," Dietzen noted.

Microsoft's Amitabh Srivistava, corporate vice president for Windows Azure, cited the company's planned Azure cloud platform. "[Azure] is designed to be interoperable," leveraging REST protocols and working with clouds from companies such as Amazon, Srivistava said. Azure also was designed to help startup companies launch their offerings, with Microsoft taking away infrastructure headaches, he added.

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"The startup scenario is one of the key scenarios we designed Windows Azure for," Srivistava said.

The entrance of Microsoft into the cloud space offers "validation" to the cloud concept, Benioff said.

Cloud computing, said Sun cloud computing CTO Lew Tucker, has been the subject of queries from enterprise customers lately. "The downturn in the economy is forcing everybody to take a serious look at what is cloud computing," Tucker said.

Cloud computing will run on everything from micro-applications on Facebook to the Apple iPhone to whatever the next new application is that reaches Google-level proportions, Tucker said. "Sun recognizes that as a systems company, we have to be there," he said.

Meanwhile, the event also featured brief presentations from several startup companies pitching wares for the cloud. These included:

* FathomDB, providing database services.

* Veodia, offering enterprise video development and sharing capabilities.

* Diomede Storage, for storage services.

* BrowserMob, an on-demand service for Web application load-testing.

* Appirio, for services management and viral marketing

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