Where all of the assumptions pointed to Amazon being the unstoppable force in public cloud computing, Microsoft has stepped up and shown those assumptions to be a thing of the past. The Microsoft Azure public cloud (formerly Windows Azure) is an increasingly powerful presence in public cloud infrastructure in general, and among its competitors.
With the recent move by Google to move towards a more aggressive pricing model, the only option that was left to Amazon and Microsoft was to respond in kind. This has been considered to be what many analysts are calling the “race to zero” on consumer cloud pricing.
The Growing Azure Portfolio
Microsoft has rebranded from Windows Azure to Microsoft Azure for a rather obvious reason: Windows is no longer the major feature of the platform. The change was not just done in name only, as Microsoft is becoming an aggressive player in the cloud marketplace both in SaaS (Software-as-a-Service) with their Office 365 offerings, and now in their IaaS (Infrastructure-as-a-Service) platform.
At the time of writing this, you can see that there are already a wide array of services to be able to deploy in the Azure management portal
Beyond the native Azure components, you can also use the Azure Store to browse for a wide variety of vendor supported services and open platform options. There are both commercial and freely available components that can be deployed in a few clicks to your Microsoft Azure environment:
Embracing the Open Source Community
As announced on April 3 by the Puppet Labs team, the integration of Microsoft Azure and Visual Studio with Puppet Enterprise. This means that hosting a Puppet Enterprise server inside your Azure cloud is now only a click away.
On the client side of Puppet, there was also very exciting work coming from the Microsoft team who support the open source management platforms. You can find the official Azure management modules in the Puppet Forge:
Even beyond the official Microsoft modules, there are dozens of community supported modules for in-guest management ranging from applications, to OS customization and Registry management. There is a vibrant community around Microsoft product and feature management as the DevOps community widens and embraces MS technologies both on the client and on the hosting sides.
For those who currently use, or wish to use Chef (formerly Opscode Chef) in an Azure environment, this has been a long supported pairing with the Knife-Azure plugin and numerous Chef recipes for managing your Azure resources and in-guest configuration tools. Continuous Delivery using these great tools is no longer isolated to Linux and other traditional open platforms.
Azure Pricing and Cost Comparison
As with any cloud platform, a key differentiator is often the cost. In most cases, we are seeing the pricing for competitive cloud platforms aligning and subtle differences are becoming the real drivers to attract or retain customers. As mentioned earlier, the move by Google to drop pricing on their cloud services offerings triggered a similar response from key players in the large scale public cloud space.
Microsoft was quick to answer the cost question in their article and as you will see in there, the real competitor that they pit themselves against is long-time incumbent AWS (Amazon Web Services).
Beyond the pricing of Microsoft Azure, there is the one big question that people have when talking about the Microsoft Azure platform.
There are many answers to this question, and many will be organization specific. Remember that cloud services are as much a process and a methodology as they are a technology. The technical merit is obviously strong with cloud services such as Microsoft Azure because of the native compatibility with existing Microsoft platforms.
Leaders in adoption of Azure will often be Microsoft based IT operations which have embraced the advantages of elastic cloud computing, continuous delivery, self-service resource deployment, and the move away from big iron data center models. We are also seeing many SMB (Small to Medium Business) organizations leaning towards using Microsoft Azure and the Microsoft SaaS applications as their primary infrastructure. This is a powerful shift when you realize that Azure only arrived in 2010.
The Path to Legacy Apps in the Cloud
Companies that are already fully invested in public cloud infrastructure on Azure competitors today do not need to be sold on the value of cloud resources. Those organizations have most likely built their operational IT model around the use of public cloud resources as part of the course of normal business.
The section of the market which is not already prepared to make the move is quite often Microsoft heavy in their on-premises data center. This correlation comes more from the historical growth in companies with a large amount of legacy applications and processes.
Companies with heavy local data (e.g. file serving) and de-centralized application environments may still hold those traditional deployment models closely for quite some time. At the same time, Microsoft Azure opens the door to move those legacy resources into new infrastructure with less risk during the transition. However, the cost model is very different which can also cause trepidation for legacy shops.
Linux on Azure – An Unlikely Friendship
Proponents for open source platforms often balked at the Azure infrastructure due to its obvious Microsoft centric focus. When Microsoft saw this happening, they took the right approach by launching Linux VM instances with persistent storage in 2012. This move has led to a strong growth in Linux on Azure which some regarded as a token move when it was released. The growing adoption clearly indicates that this is not the case.
In 2014, we have seen that the basics of cloud computing with offering compute instances is a strong part of the modern cloud platform, but the strength of the platform will often lie in its variety of available services. Integration across the Azure platform has proven to be simple.
The everything-as-a-Service or Anything-as-a-Service type of delivery as it is often called, is the new way to bring application environments to the consumer. Microsoft Azure saw this opportunity and has clearly stepped up to the plate with a plan to aggressively move more of its offerings like load balancing, database and web applications, big data, and much more to the front of mind for modern CIOs.
Azure is Just Getting Started
The growing array of product offerings from Microsoft in their Azure platform is a clear sign that they have a goal to be a major player in the cloud marketplace. While AWS has the advantage of the incumbent, and Google has the advantage of scale, Microsoft has a history of holding their own up against competitors, and now they can do it in the Azure cloud one hour at a time. Further, Microsoft also carries with it a deep relationship with many enterprises. This deep relationship coupled with a growing Azure portfolio of services will keep many customer attached to the Redmond giant for the foreseeable future.