"If you're a new provider, are you going to use Hyper-V, or are you going to use .Net and offer that as a service and compete with Azure? Not likely," Reeves says. Microsoft is "providing the enabling technologies for cloud providers and selling against them at the same time."
Azure exited beta and went into general availability on Feb. 1 of this year. But Microsoft has been relatively quiet overall about the cloud service. "I have a list of questions to ask [Microsoft] about Azure," says Pund-IT analyst Charles King.
In addition to the cloud-based operating system and SQL database, Azure includes a content delivery network. King says he wants to know what other Azure services will be rolled out, and what kind of interest Azure is receiving from customers so far. While most big IT vendors are focusing on enterprises and service providers, King says Microsoft may be ideally positioned to market its cloud service to small-to-midsized businesses.
"Microsoft is the de-facto vendor of choice for most small businesses," King says. "I think small- and medium-sized businesses are in a position to really gain some interesting benefits from the cloud."
Reeves says Azure seems to be in flux, with Microsoft still "trying to figure out whether it's platform-as-a-service or infrastructure-as-a-service."
Cloud platforms allow developers to build and deploy Web applications without any internal hardware and software, while infrastructure services deliver raw computing and storage capacity to customers.
Microsoft still needs to show that Azure has real, live customers, define proper use cases and say "'this is what it's good for so they can position themselves in the market," Reeves says. In competing against Amazon, "It's not a question of technology. It's a question of their business model," he says.
A Microsoft spokesperson said the TechEd event "will focus on the cloud strategy for enterprise customers and developers," without revealing other details. With a topic as broad as cloud computing, that leaves open the possibility of several areas Microsoft may choose to focus on.
For example, Azure Senior Architect Hasan Alkhatib said last December that Microsoft was working on a new security structure for multi-tenant cloud environments, and private cloud software based on the same technology used in Azure.
Or, Microsoft could discuss its vision for using its System Center Virtual Machine Manager, Hyper-V and Windows Server together as the infrastructure for building private clouds, as well as how customers can create hybrid clouds that allow workloads to shift from internal data centers to external Windows-based cloud services.
Microsoft could also shed more light on Office Web Apps and BPOS (Business Productivity Online Standard Suite), the Web-based versions of its Microsoft Office software products. BPOS is already available, and the consumer-flavored Office Web Apps will go live on June 15. But Microsoft has still not said exactly when these Web-based tools will be upgraded to the 2010 versions of Office, SharePoint and Exchange. They currently run on the 2007 versions.