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Summary:

Microsoft’s ambitious Windows Azure cloud is many things — it’s a full-fledged PaaS for developers. But beneath that, it is also a huge pool of foundational storage infrastructure for rent. And in that arena, it could be the only real competitor to Amazon.

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Microsoft’s ambitious Windows Azure cloud is many things — it’s a full-fledged platform as a service (PaaS) for developers. But beneath all that, it is also a huge pool of foundational compute and storage infrastructure for rent.

And that infrastructure layer is fine indeed, according to Andres Rodriquez, CEO of Nasuni, a Natick, Mass. startup that specializes in managing business customers’ storage securely in whatever public cloud best suits their needs. He’s checked out all the public clouds and his conclusion? “Microsoft has a kick-ass cloud.”

That could come in handy now as more tech companies seek to replicate the success of Dropbox, the Silicon Valley darling that has more than 45 million users of its cloud-based storage since it was founded in 2007.

Dropbox provides an easy, inexpensive way for consumers to put their documents, photos and other digital paraphernalia in the cloud and then access it from any device. Dropbox itself puts all that stuff on Amazon’s S3 storage, essentially acting as an on-ramp to a gigantic hard drive in the sky.

Rodriguez says Dropbox is to Amazon storage as a USB stick is to a hard drive: It puts a user-friendly front end onto what is essentially an inscrutable block of storage.

The discussion is relevant again because Google is apparently getting ready to launch its own Dropbox killer. But Rodriguez doesn’t think Google has a shot here. But Microsoft? That’s another story.

“Right now [all these companies] want to be the new Dropbox, but Microsoft is the only company I see as being able to do that,” Rodriquez said in an interview Friday. Microsoft has the front-end smarts to make the on boarding easy. (Outside of Azure, Microsoft already fields SkyDrive consumer storage.) And, unlike many other tech companies, it also has massive amounts of back-end storage in its data centers. It has both the USB stick and the hard drive.

Nasuni is in a pretty good position to judge the relative merits of these public cloud platforms: It gauges the reliability and availability of all the major cloud storage guys and chooses the highest quality cloud storage provider for its customers. It then monitors clouds storage performance, availability and reliability and if it detects problems move customers’ data to another clouds (nondisruptively.) A few months ago the company released a report that put Amazon and Microsoft at the top of a very competitive heap of cloud storage providers, with Amazon edging out Microsoft for the top slot. Ever since then, Microsoft has been all over Nasuni about how to improve its offering, he said.

That’s fairly typical of Microsoft which is, in my opinion, at its best when it’s not in the power position and at its worst when it leads the pack.  Many would argue that Microsoft’s strongest efforts are in its mobile phone OS, where it is a decided underdog, and Azure. Where it leads the pack — as in Office and Windows —  things can get sloppy. As we saw with Office feature bloat and, well, remember Vista?

Microsoft Azure overall has not gotten as much traction as expected as a PaaS, he said, but the infrastructure is so solid and scalable that Microsoft can profit even in the extremely thin margins afforded by plain-old-but-very-important  cloud storage.

Photo courtesy of Flickr user D.Begley

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  1. LOL, some guy from some startup in middle-of-nowhere USA says it, so it must be true? Google has no chance in cloud storage? Azure rules?

    Why not go poll homeless people to get their take while you’re at it.

    1. wow that’s a lot of hostility. makes one wonder. Have a good weekend.

      1. Prob works on CloudFoundry for VMware. Need to see a dead end PaaS project, there’s one…

      2. Barb, you made, or wrote about, rather strong claims about Google’s offerings without any substantiation whatsoever. I wouldn’t phrase it the way “beenyweenies” did, but you did sort of quote this guy as gospel without doing any diligence or looking for other perspectives. The article reads as a sales pitch, not a technical review. I would be very pleased to hear some substantiated claims for why Google doesn’t “[have] a shot here” — that’s a bold claim indeed.

        Also, you are mixing up enterprise and consumer storage to some extent, comparing things like Azure, S3, DropBox, all the while talking about both consumers with USB sticks and citing a guy who manages enterprise storage. So it’s odd that you don’t even mention Google Cloud Storage in addition to its GDrive service. Again, I’m just not seeing the due diligence here, and look forward to reasons to back up these bold claims.

        Thanks!

  2. beenyweenies, what’s your real name, or are you only happy throwing rocks from your cozy position of anonymity?

  3. Ursheet Parikh Friday, February 10, 2012

    There are many cloud storage offerings in the consumer and SMB space (Dropbox, Apple icloud, Microsoft Sky drive, Google Gdrive, Nasuni, Axcient, Barracuda etc.) and the jury is still out there on who has the best offering.

    However, when it comes to enterprise and government customers, the Microsoft’s Azure offering with its integrated high touch sales, support and partner ecosystem is one of the best offerings in the market. You can see many case studies on the success of Azure at http://www.storsimple.com/cloudsuccess

  4. Azure is a remarkable feat of engineering. Every once in a while, Microsoft really gets something right. Azure is one of those things. Rodriguez’ points about its utility and its reliability have 2 years of objective data collection and analysis behind it. What does that say about its market uptake and general momentum? Nada. Sun Grid was 9 kinds of awesome in 2003, but it’s long gone and AWS is here. Make of that what you will, but everybody can at stand back and applaud the technical acumen. For God’s sake, Azure runs entirely on Windows!! Ever seen a pig do cartwheels? Now you have. Hats off, gentlepeople. Hats off.

    1. It’s all ok until they need to upgrade to the next version of windows…

  5. Maximilian Megalon Friday, February 10, 2012

    Even Apple uses Azure for its iCloud, doesn’t it?

    1. @maximilian — you know i did read that but i’m not sure it’s true. Will poke around re. iCloud.

  6. Title doesn’t really match the content. I’d like to hear more about Azure becoming a “kick butt cloud” and less about the next Dropbox killer.

  7. Matt is right, there should have been more about Azure for sure.

    1. this story was about the storage layer of Azure since that’s what Andres knows verywell. He doesn’t really deal w/ the overall PaaS aspect

  8. As a partner of Azure (circle 150), we have found the Microft Azure sales and engineering staff to be enthusiastic and knowledgeable, and we are enjoying a successful partnership with them (despite the opinion of beenyweenies!).

  9. WOW, thanks for all of the kind words and comments. Azure is hiring great software engineers, check out our open jobs at http://bit.ly/Azure_Jobs or email me at jubali@microsoft.com!

  10. Microsoft Azure is a kick-butt cloud that goes down on Leap days. Good luck with availability guarantees :)

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