Thursday, May 23, 2024

Microsoft Azure: Making the Cloud Safe for Innovation

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One of the more interesting problems facing startups today is the double bind that cloud computing offers innovative new software companies.

On the one hand, deploying new innovative software in the cloud is a godsend for startups trying to appease the IT department’s often obstructive attitude toward new software. This is particularly true of anything that requires IT resources to install and manage.

On the other hand, being able to support a newly developed cloud-based offering means building and deploying a cloud infrastructure with the up-time and redundancy that cloud customers have come to expect, before a single contract is signed and a single customer dollar has been put in the bank. It’s a daunting dilemma for those three guys in a garage with a great idea that they’re trying to turn into a software product.

Herein lies Microsoft’s biggest cloud opportunity: Azure has a role to fill as a low-cost, Windows-ready deployment option for new cloud computing offerings. With Azure as the deployment platform, startups can offer 99%-plus up time, failover capacity, and all the other terms and conditions that can make a fledgling startup’s support infrastructure look like a seasoned cloud-based offering.

This isn’t just good for start-ups and Microsoft. The beauty of having an enterprise-class cloud infrastructure at the disposal of software startups is that this partnership will go a long way toward facilitating the uptake of innovative new software inside the enterprise.

The problem is that the innovator’s dilemma in many companies revolves around the shifting roles of IT and the line of business in the acquisition of new capabilities – a shift aided and abetted by the companies that are developing new, exciting software products.

More and more, the line of business has the budget and authority to acquire new software that can provide specific business value to a specific business function or class of business user. If only they can convince IT to let them deploy the software they want.

Armed with that new authority, these user/buyers have become the focal point of much of the industry’s efforts, both among large and small vendors. And while the large vendors enjoy a distinct incumbent’s advantage in selling to the line of business in a company where IT is already a consumer of that large vendor’s systems, smaller companies are at a distinct disadvantage when faced with a similar opportunity.

The problem is that IT tends to be wary of new software from small startups that requires IT support and IT resources. In many cases the line of business user that wants to work with a start-up has to run an IT gauntlet. This gauntlet is intended to preserve the sanctity of the IT department’s security and privacy rules. But in the end it also does an excellent job of short-circuiting attempts to acquire best-of-breed applications from unknown start-up companies.

Here’s where Azure comes in: when Microsoft finally pulls Azure together – and that means making it as truly enterprise-class as it’s advanced billing has promised – the lure of Azure for the innovator will be huge.

The fact that it’s a Microsoft cloud – built on top of the company’s multi-billion dollar infrastructure investment – will attract a lot to developers looking for a secure, safe, scalable cloud infrastructure, and then some. Azure offering of key Microsoft stack services like SQL Server, Communications Services, and other .NET services makes it an attractive development environment for new software startups eager to focus their resources on their specific IP and leave the infrastructure/back office issues to Microsoft.

How soon will Azure start to impact the start-up world – and thereby the consumption of innovative software in the line of business?

Based on what I saw last fall at Microsoft’s developers’ conference, it won’t be until later this year at best. The issue of how fast a complex application can be deployed on Azure needs to be resolved – the demo I saw took minutes to deploy a simple application that displayed “Hello World” on a user’s screen. The ability of Azure to offer service levels that a startup can literally bet its company on remains to be seen as well.

But once these and several other basic issues are resolved, Microsoft has a helluva opportunity on its hands. The innovators/developers desperately need a platform that will off-load a lot of cloud deployment issues to a big partner, and the innovators/consumers need their software to be running in a cloud environment that won’t give IT conniptions.

Azure could be just the ticket to bring these two needs together in a single cloud-based offering. And the sooner they can do it, the better for customers, start-ups, and Microsoft itself.

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