Microsoft keeps beating the Azure hybrid cloud drum

Microsoft(s msft) is betting big that companies — nearly 100 percent of which now run some form of Windows and Office in-house — will move some of those on-prem workloads to its Azure cloud. And it is pounding that hybrid cloud message home at its annual TechEd conference in Houston this week.

One key goal is to make it easy and fast for companies to funnel their data into Azure. Toward that end, Microsoft’s previously announced ExpressRoute will be broadly available via data center and internet exchange provider partners including Equinix(S eqix), Level 3(s lvlt), AT&T(s T), BT, Verizon(s vz) and others. Basically, ExpressRoute enables companies to set up a private (and redundant) conduit to move their data to and from Azure. Customers can simply add this capability to their existing MPLS  and telco contracts with their existing internet exchange providers.

TechEd product blitz

Also new is a preview of Microsoft Azure Files, which will give organizations a shared file system in Azure, said Brad Anderson (pictured above), corporate vice president of cloud and enterprise for Microsoft. He unveiled these perks during his TechEd keynote on Monday. The promise is a simple way for an organization to attach multiple virtual machines into a single shared file.

Other news to expect at this event, which targets IT and systems administrators, is a repackaged and tweaked Hyper-V Recovery Manager, now known as Microsoft Azure Site Recovery. This, Anderson said, will let users replicate their VMs from their own data centers to Azure in an automated way and will enable failover in the event of some sort of meltdown.

in addition, for companies wanting to stream their windows apps to local devices, a new preveiw of Microsoft Azure RemoteApp is now available. If your company has thousands of users and doesn’t want to field the servers in house to serve them, this might be a solution. And if that scenario sounds familiar it’s because RemoteApp builds on 20 years of experience Microsoft has, working with Citrix, in streaming remote applications to the desktop.

Microsoft is being hugely ambitious with its Azure cloud push and it’s a key focus for the company’s new CEO, Satya Nadella, who is pushing Azure as a backend for all manner of non-Windows devices and applications. Expect to hear more on this next month when Scott Guthrie, EVP of Microsoft’s Cloud and Enterprise group, talks about Azure opportunities and challenges at Structure.

Microsoft EVP of cloud and enterprise Scott Guthrie.
Microsoft EVP of Cloud and Enterprise Scott Guthrie.

Can Microsoft keep Windows/Office shops on board with Azure?

Many small and medium businesses and enterprises have invested in tons of Microsoft software — which mostly runs on premises and on local disk drives. It’s less clear how eager they are to move that stuff to Azure. Part of this may be a fear of cloud in general, and part of it may be that many of these companies’ developers have seen what can be done with other cloud options out there. Scratch any Microsoft shop and you will find developers relying on Amazon(s amzn) Web Services, for example.

So Microsoft is navigating a tricky path between offering Azure as a sort of repository for all sorts of workloads — not just Windows — and also protecting that cash-cow Windows business. Many small startups have already moved on from Office and Windows to non-Windows-based Google(s GOOG) Apps or other options, and it’s not clear they’re going to reverse course on that. And it’s not just Google and AWS lurking out there: Plenty of other cloud options are available for corporate workloads, and many of them are being touted at the OpenStack Summit in Atlanta this week.