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At long last, Microsoft is ready to compete head on with Amazon Web Services

It’s been so long in coming that many folks stopped waiting for it, but Microsoft’s(s msft) Windows Azure Infrastructure as a Service — its long-promised response to Amazon Web Services — goes live for all customers on Tuesday.

Microsoft's Chicago data center is one of eight worldwide.
Microsoft’s Chicago data center is one of eight worldwide.

While he did not characterize Azure IaaS as an “Amazon(s amzn) killer,” Azure GM Bill Hilf did say Microsoft will match AWS on price for any of its base-level infrastructure — storage, compute instances, etc. — continuing a price war that flared last November when AWS, Google and Microsoft traded price cuts on their respective cloud storage offerings.

And, Azure IaaS pricing will be uniform across all geographies and data centers. Microsoft runs 8 data centers worldwide, 4 in the U.S., 2 in Europe and 2 in Asia. This is a pointed response to AWS, which relies heavily on its aging-but-humongous U.S. East data center farm in Ashburn, Virg. Many AWS services debut there and prices for U.S. East services are often lower than the same services originating in other AWS regions. “Many customers architect their applications in really weird ways to take advantage of that pricing,” Hilf said. U.S east is also the epicenter for most of the AWS outages over the past year or so.

And before you write off Azure as too late to matter, consider this: For the many companies that run Windows applications and may want to move them betwixt and between a public cloud and their own Windows-centric server rooms, Azure may be a really smart choice. In the run up to this news Microsoft announced Active Directory for Azure  last week.

PaaS priority hurt Azure

Microsoft’s problem is that it zigged when it probably should have zagged 3 years ago when it rolled out Azure as a full Platform-as-a-Service (PaaS). It was a great idea in theory, but by then developers — especially those in startups — were already flocking to AWS and its easy-to-spin-up-and-pay-for infrastructure.

That interest started to spread to bigger, more established businesses or departments within enterprises where developers loved the idea of being able to quickly build their own sandbox on AWS without IT interference. Fair or not, the perception soon became that Azure was a development and deployment platform for old-world Windows and .Net applications. It was deep and rich, but it was attacking a moribund market.

Ironically, those old-school Windows shops could now be Azure’s saving grace. The majority of legacy enterprise applications run on Windows and many of those enterprises are evaluating cloud deployments, although not many of them are wild about moving enterprise applications to a public cloud. Hilf’s argument is that since Azure’s underpinnings mirror those of Windows Server 2012 shops, applications can run on premises or in the cloud and partially in either.

Google Compute Engine, aka the wild card cloud

For many developers, the great unknown here is what impact Google Compute Engine will have when it becomes widely available. I would bet that might happen at Google I/O  next month, but who knows, Google(s goog) may want to counter program this Azure news. Plus the OpenStack Summit is this week with lots of news coming out of companies including Rackspace(s rax), IBM, HP and others —  which hope to combat with AWS with OpenStack-based public clouds.

But many think that Google, by virtue of its sheer scale, will be the cloud to watch vis-a-vis Amazon Web Services.

The other issue is whether Amazon, which is by all accounts the world’s largest public cloud provider, can maintain the advantages of being first to market with its gigantic cloud and whether it can attract enterprise accounts with higher-end services like RedShift data warehousing.

AWS has rolled out hundreds of services and features since launching in 2006 — Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos  put the count at 159 new features last year alone. That’s quite a head start and Amazon fans say it’s market position is unassailable.

But remember: People used to say the same about Microsoft.

17 Responses to “At long last, Microsoft is ready to compete head on with Amazon Web Services”

  1. Adrienne Hall

    Regardless of the service-type, enterprise cloud adoption is also affected by price, flexibility, and service options, which Barb mentions. Beyond that though, the release offers a hybrid cloud solution, which I have to agree with analyst James Staten, is good news for enterprise cloud adoption.

  2. The “Cloud Battle” won’t be won on infrastructure or on specific solutions. The problem I see with Azure is that it is Windows only (as far as I know), and very vew enterprises only have Windows, there is a combination of platforms and solutions that need to be catered for.

    As for the IaaS vs PaaS debate, the big focus at this stage is on IaaS as enterprises get to grips with the advantages of cloud. Once IaaS is the norm, and most enterprises are on it, we will have a debate on PaaS vs SaaS as consumers evolve. After that a debate on SaaS vs BPaaS, and so it will continue. So the “Cloud Battle” will be won by whomever can manage the transition of their customers the best, by moving the customers from a very technical environment today to a business environment tomorrow.

  3. Jeff Putz

    At long last? This service has been available for nearly a year. Just because it was “preview” didn’t mean it wasn’t there or not supported.

    Infrastructure is available only because people think they need it until they get how to use PaaS. Once you go PaaS, you never want to go back to infrastructure. Seriously, who wants to feed and care for boxes, virtual or otherwise, when they can just have a place to run their app?

  4. Be Sharp

    “But many think that Google, by virtue of its sheer scale, will be the cloud to watch vis-a-vis Amazon Web Services.”

    Many think??? You mean “many at Gigaom?” Because everyone else knows that GCE is miniscule product by deployment size and has nothing to do with other tenants of Google data centers as none of them utilize it just yet. Stop spreading lies!

  5. Amazon is now having 2 really strong competitors, which will be of benefit for all of us. Funny that both MS and Google went to PaaS adding IaaS later on, while Amazon added ~PaaS (Beanstalk). Seems Amazon was right. Anyhow, with more and more players in the game its getting hard to find the one for you, so services like really helps.

    • Be Sharp

      2 really strong competitors? You mean Google GCE or whatever that Java/Python thing is called today? Give me a break, it’s a joke that already suffered one reboot and will never take off, just like Google+, Google Hangouts, Google this, that, the other. Ad agency! Nuff said.

  6. Funny how IAAS is pictured as “easy-to-spin-up-and-pay-for”. PAAS blows IAAS away in that department. The sole reason IAAS is popular right now is b/c it’s easy to migrate existing product to. Should you wanna start anything brand new you would not want to manage all that IAAS infrastructure on your own.

    Can you guys hire a few editors that actually know what they are talking about.

    • Hassan Hosseini

      I’d have to disagree with you on that one. As you go up the stack, you loose more granular control. We were running new applications on PaaS which we migrated to IaaS since we needed more granular control over the resources we were using. For example, part of our application requires a different levels of CPU and memory, and this is something we couldn’t really control with PaaS.

      Of course it can go the other way too if people are struggling with management of those IaaS resources, but there are many tools that can help with those too.

      • Yeah, yeah, yeah. It’s like reading a debate over stick-shift vs auto-transmission. The SS guys insist about “delicate / better control”, “saving gas / cost”, blah blah blah… Those are all true but at the end of the day the convenience of automatic control outweighs the gains of SS, and AT cars definitely out-sell the SS ones.

        We are witnessing the same thing all over again with IAAS and PAAS. It does not surprise me Azure is behind FOR NOW as it came to the party 4 years late and carries the image of .Net stack only. But the benefit of convenience is here to stay, and nothing can take that edge away. If AWS does not catch up in PAAS offering it will be bumped aside by these PAAS alternatives.

    • Be Sharp

      Hehe, I bet you said the same thing to them about SQL Server, XBox and other great products that were underdogs for awhile and yet created successful businesses that are still generating cash while new stellar products are being created and you keep touting competition that you have no relation to anyway…

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