Microsoft Enters Cloud Computing Game With Windows Azure

windows azureAzure: a light purplish-blue, or sky blue. Also, a small town in Montana, a model of Bentley automobiles, and a song by Duke Ellington. Today, a new definition can be added: Microsoft’s cloud computing platform. Both rumoured and expected, Microsoft chief software architect Ray Ozzie announced Windows Azure today at the opening of their Professional Developer’s Conference.

Windows® Azure is a cloud services operating system that serves as the development, service hosting and service management environment for the Azure Services Platform. Windows Azure provides developers with on-demand compute and storage to host, scale, and manage Web applications on the Internet through Microsoft® data centers.

To build these applications and services, developers can use their existing Microsoft® Visual Studio® 2008 expertise. In addition, Windows Azure supports popular standards and protocols including SOAP, REST, and XML. Windows Azure is an open platform that will support both Microsoft and non-Microsoft languages and environments.

Today’s announcement was something of a tip of an iceberg, as the details don’t go much deeper than bullet points and diagrams of boxes, arrows, and clouds. The service is in “Community Technology Preview” mode (Microsoft’s term for beta), and no prices have been announced.

Amazon must have foresaw this when they added Windows and Microsoft SQL Server (beta) support to their EC2 service last week. At the same time, they announced the removal of the “beta” title and a Service Level Agreement, satisfying corporate IT administrators that need reliability for enterprise uses. In the emerging cloud computing marketplace, Microsoft is the first entrant that poses a formidable threat to Amazon. This could be the most important strategic move Microsoft has made in years. While their OS market share declines and their software offerings face competition from online services and open source,  hosting services and infrastructure could provide a lucrative new revenue stream for the company.