Whenever you hear Microsoft's Bob Muglia speak you realise that he is a very smart guy. I guess you need to be as president of the nearly $15 billion Server and Tools Division of Microsoft. Muglia controls key data center products like Windows Server, SQL Server and System Center, as well as the Windows Azure Platform-as-a-Service (Paas) - a key underpinning of the company's cloud strategy.
In an interview well worth reading (with IDG Enterprise Chief Content Officer John Gallant and InfoWorld.com Editor in Chief Eric Knorr) Muglia talked about Microsoft's cloud strategy and how customers are responding.
Would you compare [Azure Appliance] with CloudBurst and what IBM has done with the Java platform?
No. Goodness no. What IBM is doing with CloudBurst is that their services teams are building specific installations. It's not at all like the engineering teams are building a single consistent platform that's being offered within their own environment. IBM is doing nothing at all like this. I mean IBM is more taking their existing technology and repackaging it in a form that they deliver as a services offering that's a cloud. They're bundling with it the services people. To me that's the opposite of what cloud is about. Cloud is about taking operational cost out, not adding it in.
Windows Azure is really the only ground-up cloud operating system that the industry has really seen. The only providers in the market that are really platform-as-a-service providers are Google and Salesforce.com. Both of those are very narrow in terms of what they're offering -- single language or a limited set of languages, limited set of services focused on a given set of applications. Windows Azure is very broad in that it supports a wide variety of languages: Java, .NET, PHP, Ruby. It's really meant for a broad set of applications and is a broad set of services.
What Muglia says is interesting, seems essentially correct, but he's probably being a little over competitive. (He left out that Amazon can provide Oracle's applications and platform on cloud, but he's right this isn't a cloud operating system.) I can understand that he wouldn't bag his partners HP or Dell, yet they are obvious candidates who intrinsically offer a lot less "cloud" than IBM and certainly not a cloud operating system - except that they can also offer the Azure Appliance.
It's not that cloud operating systems don't exist, think cloud operating system vendors like Eucalytus, Enomaly, Joyent, etc but they don't exist in the depth which Microsoft brings, or IBM for that matter.
IBM indeed has a huge opportunity to move into SaaS/cloud applications because of their massive applications portfolio. As Chairman Mao said, "The longest journey starts with a single step" and IBM is taking those steps into SaaS and cloud. For example IBM is launching Blueworks Live, a BPM solution delivered by channel partners to SMB customers by way of the cloud.
The idea behind BPM is to improve common actions like new user on-boarding or sales quote approvals by giving better visibility and control, according to IBM’s press release, and Blueworks Live puts those kind of activities into a Facebook-style news feed, enabling users to see what their colleagues are up to. In addition, IBM is touting Blueworks Live's "intuitive" discovery and documentation capabilities.
To be realistic Blueworks Live isn't a first step for IBM by any stretch of the imagination. IBM has its cloud division well established, well funded, and global. It has "Blue Cloud" centers spread around the world for developers, and it has many hosted apps on EC2 images for developers and in production.
There are many other IBM SaaS examples, as Muglia aludes to, and you would expect after a certain time that IBM would then offer a "single consistent platform" based on that experience and combining many of their acquisitions such as Cast Iron.
Which I guess is what the IBM Cloud Service Provider Platform is all about. That's impressive and aimed at telecoms carriers - carrier grade services, although it only appears to be IaaS at the moment (with the ability planned "to launch partner applications and services such as unified communications, collaboration, field force management, sales tracking and customer relationship management applications"), and conceivably falls into Muglia's category of "data centre in a box" comments.
In conclusion, yes Microsoft is well ahead on PaaS at the moment (and in the consumerization of IT as it relates to cloud services) and the Azure platform is extremely significant. However IBM would be far from the weakest potential competitor. After all IBM stands head and shoulders over every else in the industry in terms of history and size of their managed services - EDS is gone, CSC is much smaller - IBM know how to do it on a massive scale. Their cloud operating system can't be too far off.
And there is another point - nobody knows how this cloud shift will play out. It may be that despite Microsoft taking an early lead with IBM in pursuit that a new player will sideline the behemoths when it comes to the eventual dominance of cloud computing.
How strong a lead does Microsoft have with Azure?
Which are the most significant IBM cloud offers in terms of strategy?
Who do you think will be the cloud operating system winners?