Microsoft continues to take great strides forward with its cloud strategy, to the point where success has it charging forth at almost record pace. One thing I have learned, in my years working in IT, is that when Microsoft sets its mind on doing something, it is a pretty safe bet that it will succeed in pretty much whatever it puts its collective minds and resources behind. The cloud is just another example of that success.

After getting a late start in the virtualization and cloud space, Microsoft finally seems to be seeing strong momentum for the Windows Azure cloud services. Microsoft Azure was formally launched in February 2010. Now, as we approach Azure’s fourth birthday, Microsoft can see itself as a major player in the competition with AWS, Rackspace, IBM, and VMware for what IDC says will be a $107 billion dollar market by the year 2017.

“We continue on an amazing growth curve,” said Steven Martin, general manager for Microsoft Windows Azure. One example of that growth and recent success is the Sochi Winter Olympics. NBC is using Windows Azure cloud services to stream all the different Olympic events to any and all qualified subscribers. Windows Azure is adding about 1,000 customers a day and now has over 250,000. This includes fifty percent of the Fortune 100. Customer increases have been accompanied by a doubling in Windows Azure’s resources and compute capacity  approximately every six to nine months.

Microsoft Azure has really taken off as of late, and I think there are a couple different reasons for this success. First, let me define what I believe “success” means so far for Microsoft Azure. In 2013, Forrester Research did a survey of developers and found that after AWS, Azure was the platform developers would most likely use for upcoming projects. Forrester’s survey  found that approximately 42% of respondents would choose AWS, 33% would choose Azure, 28% Google, 23% Hewlett-Packard HP, and 22% IBM.

One of the things that I believe is really helping Microsoft is that organizations and companies that are well vested in Microsoft technology are predisposed to continue working with Microsoft products. It helps them with uniformity in the enterprise, and it does not hurt their cause when the companies’ enterprise license agreements can also be used in Microsoft Azure instances. This addition to the license agreement helps to present an almost no-brainer decision to at least try to utilize the Azure services.

Microsoft appears to fully understand that it is not a very easy task to persuade organizations to move their existing infrastructures to the cloud. From that understanding, Microsoft has been focusing on finding ways and use cases through which Azure can extend, not replace, an organization’s current infrastructure. At least, that is the current message, but from all accounts I believe this is just Microsoft’s “baby steps” approach. Through such an approach, it uses success stories to convince organizations to at least start getting their virtual feet wet. Then later it will say, “Hey, your organization is this far into the pool; what can we do to really push you in, or at least help you take another step deeper into the Azure pool?”

One of the tools that is helping make Microsoft a true competitor with its peers in this area is the ExpressRoute service, which allows direct VLAN connection to the Azure platform, making it easier and more secure to transfer data to and from the cloud.  ExpressRoute is along the same lines as AWS Direct Connect and Rackspace’s RackConnect. This type of service is something that cloud providers are going to need to have in place for their customers. In my opinion, this is not a service that is nice to have, but rather a service that is a must-have.

I really have to give Microsoft a lot of credit on their great success so far, considering that Hyper-V was only finalized and released in June of 2008. Break it down this way: in less than six years, Microsoft has gone from being the new kid on the block trying to make a comparison to the other more established hypervisors, to having become a force in the cloud computing space to contend with.

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Steve Beaver (162 Posts)

Stephen Beaver is the co-author of VMware ESX Essentials in the Virtual Data Center and Scripting VMware Power Tools: Automating Virtual Infrastructure Administration as well as being contributing author of Mastering VMware vSphere 4 and How to Cheat at Configuring VMware ESX Server. Stephen is an IT Veteran with over 15 years experience in the industry. Stephen is a moderator on the VMware Communities Forum and was elected vExpert for 2009 and 2010. Stephen can also be seen regularly presenting on different topics at national and international virtualization conferences.

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