James Governor's Monkchips

Clouds Condense: Azure, Standards, Logistics and Tooling

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I was reading The Wisdom of Clouds blog today and it struck me how fast we’re moving. Webside thinking on the cloud is ratcheting up quickly, hubs being linked by spokes, spokes to rims, rims to rubber meeting road.

I like the way James Urquhart ties his thinking about Microsoft’s Oslo domain specific language modeling technology story into a broader analysis of Microsoft’s Azure announcements from last week’s PDC.

Oslo goes beyond the Java/C# debates. It creates a platform in which complex systems can be described by a series of fairly simple models, assembled together as needed to meet the task at hand. Text tools for the low level stuff, visual tools for the high level assembly, etc. It really was an eye opening view of what Microsoft has been working on now for a few years.

Now take a look at Azure, and the “All-Enterprise” infrastructure that will be available there. Identity services (OpenID, no less), an Enterprise Service Bus, relational and unstructured database services–the list goes on. If you take the time to learn .NET, you can get an amazing experience where the development tools just flow into the deployment models, which just flow into the operational advantages, whether on-premises or in the cloud.

James worries that Amazon will crowd out (cloud out) other innovators and “mom and pop shops”– for example in the provisioning, monitoring and management spaces. Amazon as Walmart? Well, Amazon is already the premier retailer on the web isn’t it? You’d expect it to innovate and tightly manage the supply chain aspects of the cloud operation just as WalMart has in the world of goods warehouses, bags and bricks.

Clearly a lot is going to depend on standards for cloud computing: standards for on-ramps, standards for off-ramps, standards for virtualised data shipping containers. Walmart of course was able to assume a dominance because of supply chain standards rather than in spite of them. Standards and free markets lead to dominant suppliers, often two or three – its the rules of statistical physics at work. They can also create opportunities for entirely new players to emerge. Nick Thinks Tim is wrong. I think we’ll see what I call an hourglass economy, with huge players dominating the top, and small companies filling out the long tail. In the middle- consolidation. Hugh as so often lit a short fuse which fired a bunch of people’s synapses.

RedMonk’s very own Stephen O’Grady has been working the cloud a lot lately (well he is a developer advocate, after all) and has a nice Q&A to Microsoft’s launch last week – FORZA AZURE.

Q: For those readers that may not have read the news in detail, can you summarize the nature of the offering?
A: Certainly. Azure is a base platform with several available service components layered on top of it, that can be consumed in an ad hoc fashion. Specifically these service components are: Live Services (incl. “Mesh”), .NET Services (ACL, workflow, service bus, etc), SQL Services (a query engine), Office Sharepoint Services, and Microsoft Dynamic CRM Services. Last, there is a layer of directly available, discrete applications rather than building blocks (Sharepoint Online, Exchange Online, etc). These are built upon Azure, a unique and not generally available flavor of Windows that was designed for the custom datacenters that Microsoft has constructed.

The occasionally awkward naming aside, these services offer developers and ISVs the fundamental building blocks necessary for constructing applications.

Q: Ok, so there are a lot of cloud offerings: how does this compare to the current slate?
A: It is highly differentiated from Amazon’s EC2/S3 paradigm, which preserves in the cloud traditional notions of machine instances and so on. In terms of the development style it compels, it is most similar to Force.com or Google’s App Engine, both of which eschew the instance in favor of a fabric. Rather than plan for capacity using machine instance metrics, fabric cloud developers simply deploy to the platform, which – in return for the user surrendering substantial control – assumes the burden of scaling.

As was the case with Google App Engine, there will undoubtedly be much debate on whether this is a good or a bad thing for developers: while the removal of scaling concerns eases their responsibilities slightly, it also introduces a learned helplessness.

But irrespective of the debate, the model that Azure follows is one increasingly popular in the cloud.

Stephen points to the suboptimal tooling experiences of current cloud offerings.

Put bluntly, it could be said that today’s cloud platforms are succeeding in spite of their tooling, rather than because of them.

Against this backdrop, then, it’s nothing but logical that Microsoft would leverage its development strength and position – Visual Studio having set for years, in my opinion, the development tooling benchmark. Still, their execution in Azure – at least from the briefing and demo that I’ve received, is impressive

As I have previously argued – in business generally and technology specifically the best packager wins. Which brings us back to standards, de facto and de jure. RedMonk thrives on understanding patterns of technology standardisation and helping our clients to understand them. I don’t expect the cloud to be any different, and its becoming clearer who we’ll be learning most from. The social networks behind cloud computing are going to be an important element of the story ahead. Microsoft just threw down the gauntlet to be on of the two big ecosystems left standing as all this shakes out.

I didn’t want to blog too early about Azure because frankly I came away pretty impressed. Microsoft putting its considerable weight as an educator behind REST could be very very significant indeed for corporate developers, and is one reason I disagree with Stephen somewhat that “the platform [Azure] is a natural fit for Microsoft developers, and a somewhat unnatural one for everyone else.”

I see it as very likely we’ll see REST calls to Azure URIs from all manner of alternative environments. Note that Cardspace and Microsoft Live IDs will support OpenID for example. I don’t remember Dopplr moaning about the Live Identity API – on the contrary the implementation helped Matt overcome the Password Antipattern. You see Dopplr, its made of messages.

Microsoft look to be in pole position right now for enterprisey clouds, while Amazon rules the roost with web developers. Google and IBM – your move. Oracle says Cloud is Fashion and I expect Larry will be wearing the latest hemline in early 2009. SAP is in deep retrenchment mode, and as yet doesn’t have a volume, developer-led story for its own Business ByDesign platform. Zoho continues to make cloud-based apps that sing. I understand Dell is supplying Microsoft’s data center build out, which has to have ticked off HP, which has yet to to demonstrate thought leadership here.

But its Saturday. I should be spending time with my family.

To further the discussion why not come to CloudCamp in London on the 13th November.

disclosure: IBM, Microsoft, and SAP are all clients.


  1. “which has to have ticked off HP, which has yet to to demonstrate thought leadership here. ”

    I’d say talk to the people in Bristol, next time you’re there.

  2. BTW, even CardSpace V1.0 just posted its token to the web site using REST, unless the site redirected to claims transformer.

  3. […] the incumbents gobble too much share.  Microsoft in particular is making some interesting moves.  Making large parts of their Azure Cloud API’s REST enabled will ease their connection to the non-Microsoft world and is a canny move.   Robert Scoble further […]

  4. […] own data centres, and have done for a long while, supporting their Live offerings. He outlined the Microsoft Azure announcement, and the themes contained in it: standards and simplicity, and cited support for HTTP, REST, […]

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