There's a (cloud) app for that: Microsoft adds app store to Azure

Microsoft's new Azure Certified program creates what amounts to an app store running inside Azure

Microsoft doesn't just want users for Azure, it wants full-blown partners who will develop and deploy apps inside Azure for other users, turning it into an enterprise app store.

That's the gist of a new program called Microsoft Azure Certified announced at the Microsoft Worldwide Partner Conference yesterday: It allows Microsoft partners to provide their apps to customers inside of Azure through a curated collection.

The main advantage of listing an app as part of Azure's collection is exposure. Listed apps are deployable from the Azure Management portal, with smaller vendors' offerings sitting cheek-by-jowl with those from names like Oracle, SAP, and Barracuda.

Microsoft's also taken some steps to ensure that Azure's app store doesn't turn into a dumping ground. Apps must be provided through virtual machines certified to run properly on Azure, have some discernible variety of technical support (free, paid, or via a community), and fulfill the other technical requirements. The virtual machines can be based on either Windows Server or Linux as long as they work well inside Azure.

Right now, the level of integration offered with Azure consists of using the platform as a delivery mechanism. Microsoft claims that in the future, participants in the program will "be able to implement Azure usage-based billing and time-based trials without additional development. Charges for their services will be included in a single invoice to customers with Azure services." The implication is that any company that charges for the use of its software won't need to deal with the nitty-gritty of billing Azure users.

Microsoft's plans echo Amazon's existing marketplace of AWS machine images, populated with instances of most every app, stack, and software technology currently in use. Amazon has a massive advantage over Azure right now, though: Its machine image catalog is gigantic, well-established, and has monetization tools built in.

Right now, Microsoft's most likely way to challenge such an entrenched system would be an extension of how it has expanded Azure as a whole. Start with a small core of customers that are wedded deeply enough to Microsoft's stack, get them working with the new product, then by degrees expand the capabilities and outreach until even people with only a casual association with Microsoft's product portfolio can't ignore what's happening.

One key part of the appeal of Azure has been its tight cross-integration with the latest generation of Windows Server products so that the distinctions between on-premises and in-the-cloud deployments can become less rigid. It isn't apparent how Azure Certified can leverage that connection, but it's clear Microsoft wants to expand the way Azure Certified works, so this ought to become a way for Microsoft to add value to the idea as time goes on.

Azure's been growing steadily, adding in-demand business functionality like machine learning and Hadoop, and each successive revision has made it more of a key component of the future of the company. Adding the ability to sell apps means both developers and end-users can take Azure seriously even if the latter is limited to those already committed to Microsoft.

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Copyright © 2014 IDG Communications, Inc.