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.