When you combine the ever-growing power of devices and the increasing ubiquity of the Web, you come up with a sum that is greater than its parts. Software + Services is that greater sum. It all adds up to a commitment from Microsoft to deliver ever more compelling opportunities and solutions to consumer and business costumers—and to our partners.”
Yesterday, Microsoft announced its “Cloud Computing” offering – Windows Azure. Azure is essentially a framework, which will allow developers to build a variety of applications which will be hosted live on the Internet. This brings a fundamental shift in today’s computing. Traditionally, software applications were stored on private ‘local’ servers. However, managing servers is a costly business. Even though hardware costs may have come down in recent years. Physical space, storage, licensing, administration and backup costs take up the lion’s share of supporting a modern day computing environment.
Microsoft and other vendors, such as Amazon, Google and SalesForce.com believe consumers and businesses will want to store far more of their data on the servers in its “cloud” of giant data centres around the world, so that it can be accessed anytime, any place and from any device.
Microsoft’s offerings are somewhat different to its competitors, in that Microsoft believes that accessing your data in the cloud requires more than just using a web browser. A hybrid model of using “Software + Services”. Essentially, this means that you still use some kind of desktop client to manipulate the data stored up in the cloud.
This proposition of cloud computing sounds attractive to businesses for a number of a reasons:
- The cost of Internet network bandwidth has significantly reduced, whilst at the same time penetration of broadband has significantly increased worldwide. This means you can access the Internet almost anywhere on earth.
- Outsourcing your hardware infrastructure saves businesses serious fixed costs, both in physical space and in hardware. Essentially, you can expense the running costs of your infrastructure. Previously, infrastructure costs were typically attributed to capital expenditure. Cloud Computing will make Finance Directors the world over very happy. Depreciation? What stinking depreciation?
However, there are some big issues to consider too:
- Single point of failure. If the cloud hardware goes down, you lose your apps and data.
- How secure is the hosting? Are your apps and data files safe from sabotage and espionage?
- Cultural concerns. For some businesses, it is going to be very hard in “letting go”. Businesses have looked after and managed their data for years. Are CEO’s willing to let their precious data be managed outside of their own data centres, despite the significant cost savings?
In response to point 3. I think that the concern is easing. Many business already outsource many of their services. Outsourcing the hardware is a natural progression of that process
But, what about the rest of us? Well, for consumers, there is the prospect of a future where much, if not all of our data and many of our applications could be stored online “in the cloud”. Think about this for a moment. Imagine a world, where our data follows us everywhere. Smaller computer, limited applications, data synced across all of our Internet aware devices?
Over the past decade, the world we live in has been transformed by the Web. It connects us to nearly everything we do—be it social or economic. It holds the potential to make the real world smaller, more relevant, more digestible and more personal. At the same time, the PC has grown phenomenally in power with rich applications unimaginable just a few years ago. What were documents and spreadsheets then are now digital photos, videos, music and movies. And as we edit, organise and store media, the PC has quietly moved from our desks to our laps to our mobile phones and entertainment centres—taking the Web with it each step of the way”.
Microsoft’s Software + Services model is perhaps the logical step in the evolution of computing. It represents an industry shift toward a design approach that is neither exclusively software-centric nor browser-centric. By combining the best aspects of software with the best aspects of cloud-based services, Microsoft hope to deliver more compelling solutions for consumers, developers and businesses. Microsoft envisions a world where rich, highly functional and elegant experiences extend from the PC, to the Web, to the devices we use every day.
“When you combine the ever-growing power of devices and the increasing ubiquity of the Web, you come up with a sum that is greater than its parts.”
Personally, I’m very excited about this computing shift. I’m *almost* ready to put my data in the cloud.