Blog Post

Microsoft Azure gets a big assist from small PaaS companies

Windows Azure, Microsoft’s(s msft) huge platform-as-a-service undertaking, is getting a boost from smaller PaaSes that will make it easier for businesses to run hybrid clouds that utilize Azure back-end services.

This is no small thing. One hurdle to Azure adoption was the lack of an easy way to bridge internal corporate applications and Azure-based workloads.

Appfog which started out as a PHP-focused PaaS before adding support for Python, Ruby, and Node.js, now supports Azure. “If you’re a developer using Appfog now you can clone any of your applications to run on Azure backend infrastructure with one click. You don’t have to change any code,” said Appfog CEO Lucas Carlson in an interview Wednesday.

This is good news for customers worried about vendor (or cloud) lock-in, a topic that Carlson has taken on in the past.

“Microsoft is building a great platform around .NET but they know [Azure] needs to embrace a lot of technologies and not be too inbred. So many enterprises have Java and .NET but also Node, PHP and Ruby. Their PaaS has to support that in a natural way.” Indeed, Microsoft has been adding support for other languages, including Node.js, over time.

Businesses want hybrid cloud

Apprenda, Clifton Park, N.Y., something of a poster child for single-language PaaSes,  is taking a more .NET centric approach to the same problem. “For most enterprises, hybrid is the end state. Customers still want to run stuff in their data centers in a private cloud but they know public cloud is part of their future,” said Apprenda CEO Sinclair Schuller. “We did direct integration work with Azure to provide pure symmetry so that your internal .NET applications can straddle to the Azure public cloud,” he added.

In a blog posted Wednesday afternoon, a day in advance of its planned Meet Azure event, Microsoft also talked up the Windows Azure Virtual Network, which the company said, lets companies

provision and manage virtual private networks (VPNs) in Windows Azure as well as securely extend on-premises networks into the cloud. It provides control over network topology, including configuration of IP addresses, routing tables and security policies and uses the industry-standard IPSEC protocol to provide a secure connection between your corporate VPN gateway and Windows Azure.

Also coming in the new Azure, long-promised persistent Linux virtual machines and lots of support for non-Microsoft technologies, news of which has been public for some time. The names of vendors pledging Azure support is telling, in that they are not the usual Windows or .NET-centric crew. They include Opscode, Cloudant, and SUSE. And, as reported earlier but not yet announced, the revamped Azure will also sport a re-designed REST interface and all-SSD block storage, a huge potential advantage over cloud rival Amazon(s amzn) which only offers SSD with DynamoDB.

 While all this work by Microsoft and its PaaS partners facilitates hybrid cloud adoption, it does not yet address another Azure roadblock, the inability of Azure itself to run in customer data centers. That’s something that Microsoft will have to figure out.

The looming Amazon factor

Largely unspoken in this big Azure push, is the growing unease in the cloud computing world about Amazon’s dominance. There is fear among smaller players that Amazon is sucking all the oxygen out of the market. Ironically, Microsoft –once viewed as the Darth Vader of the software world — is now seen as a more benevolent ally.

An executive with another Azure partner said Microsoft has changed  for the better in the cloud era — where it does not enjoy the monopoly power it has desktop OS and productivity applications.

“They got the message that they’re a player in the ecosystem, not the ecosystem [itself]. They heard from customers that they won’t source everything from Microsoft,” the executive said. He credited Satya Nadella, president of Microsoft’s Server and Tools group, who will speak at our Structure conference next month, with getting Microsoft product groups to think differently than in the past, when every decision was colored by the need to perpetuate the Windows/Office juggernaut.

That’s why we should expect to hear more about Microsoft allying itself with smaller, nimbler and not-necessarily-Windows centric partners as it tries to build Azure into a cloud computing powerhouse to rival Amazon.

4 Responses to “Microsoft Azure gets a big assist from small PaaS companies”

  1. Eddie

    Three cheers for free and open markets and for entrepreneurs like the founders of Amazon for pushing the envelope, which means the Win part of the Wintel Death Star is adapting to this new world! How exciting and awesome that we don’t need to count on the DOJ or its European or Japanese counterparts to investigate / break up monopolies like the one Microsoft once had. With cloud competition and Apple leading on the smartphone / tablet space, the Jedi Rebels are indeed leveling the playing field!