Take that, vCloud: Microsoft opens Windows Azure to web hosts

punch face

Updated: It looks like Microsoft is serious about becoming the operating system for cloud computing. At its Worldwide Partner Conference on Tuesday, the company announced what amounts to a white-label version of its Windows Azure cloud platform targeting current Windows Server-based web hosts. This looks like a shot across the bow at VMware, which has been pushing its vCloud agenda — which spans both on-premise and cloud-based VMware deployments — for a couple years.

Microsoft has taken flak in the past for not having a legitimate hybrid cloud strategy, but it’s certainly shaping up now. With the new offering called Service Management Portal, currently in Community Technology Preview mode (Microsoft lingo for “pre-beta”), Microsoft partners can offers customers a Window Azure-like infrastructure-as-a-service experience without actually using Microsoft’s cloud. This is accomplished via a standardized management portal, but also via extensible APIs that let developers connect their hosted applications to hosts’ other specialized services, to their own on-premise resources, or even to Windows Azure, if they so desire.

Sinclair Schuller, founder and CEO of Microsoft partner Apprenda, said the move is smart as Microsoft tries to grow its cloud computing footprint. “As Microsoft is expanding their toolkit,” he said, “they’re trying to make sure it’s not a disjointed experience.” Users might want to utilize 10 different cloud services, but they don’t want to use 10 different interfaces for interacting with them.

Apprenda, which offers on-premise platform-as-a-service software for .NET applications, is a partner of Microsoft’s new offering, too. If web hosts deploy an Apprenda instance internally and plug it into the portal, customers can deploy web applications that leverage Apprenda’s auto-scaling and other PaaS capabilities right from the management portal.

In the grand scheme of things, Service Management Portal could go down as Microsoft’s most-significant blow in its battle against virtualization market leader VMware to become the operating system for the cloud. VMware has a headstart with its vCloud Datacenter Services program and vCloud Director management software, but Microsoft now essentially has an answer to both, although it still has plenty of maturing to do (especially if it wants to compete for enterprise workloads). It tried to do something similar a couple years ago with the promised Windows Azure Appliance, but that strategy, which was limited to large partners such as Dell, HP and Fujitsu, never really took off. (Fujitsu is apparently the only one of those partners that actually followed through.)

To add insult to injury, Microsoft is also working to grow its ecosystem of service provider partners with a new program helping them move off of VMware’s hypervisor and onto Microsoft’s Hyper-V hypervisor.

Microsoft already has one big-name pilot customer for Service Management Portal in the form of web-hosting giant GoDaddy — whose involvement raises the question of just how disruptive Microsoft might be to the entire private-cloud software industry that has seen most of its traction thanks to service providers. Last year, GoDaddy announced a cloud offering based on Cloud.com’s (now Citrix’s) CloudStack software, and I’m awaiting word from GoDaddy as to whether Microsoft’s new portal might replace that offering. According to an email responsed from GoDaddy Distinguised Engineer Brian Krouse:

GoDaddy is always looking for ways to better serve our customers. We are currently exploring the new Microsoft Windows solution for our 4GH Web hosting, which is a scalable shared-hosting offering. GoDaddy is aware of Microsoft’s capabilities to run an IaaS solution and we are actively investigating the possibility. Currently, our Cloud Servers product is powered by Citrix for both Windows and Linux.

Feature image courtesy of Shutterstock user olly.

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