Yesterday Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer gave a talk on Cloud Computing at the University of Washington, Seattle. Check out the video of the entire talk here. Let me briefly highlight the key points from his talk and then offer my perspectives on it. He was highlighting five key dimensions of the cloud

  • Cloud creates opportunities and responsibilities: He was highlighting how cloud computing is opening up various business opportunities for people to take advantage without any huge investment. He was talking about new kinds of businesses that are possible only due to clouds. He then went on to highlight the responsibility of cloud providers in protecting the privacy of user information and data.
  • The cloud learns and helps you learn, decide and take action: Here, he was clearly coupling Semantic Web technologies with the cloud computing and argued how the feedback loop from the data could help us do better things. He brought in Blaise Aguera Y Arcas from the Bing Map team to show the recently announced new features.
  • The cloud enhances your social and professional interactions: He was highlighting how cloud computing has drastically changed the way we interact with our professional connections, family and friends. He brought in Simon Atwell from XBox team to demo how they have partnered with Sky Network in UK to bring in a social approach to watching television. The point was cloud computing makes it very easy to socialize without moving the butt from the couch.
  • The cloud wants smarter devices: This topic was meant to show how cloud computing has enabled mobile devices to do things that were not possible in the past. He was showing how smarter devices of all form factors has made the traditional PC somewhat redundant. He then spoke about the capabilities of upcoming Windows Mobile 7.
  • Cloud drives server advances that in turn drive the cloud: Here he was talking about the advances made in hardware and software that makes cloud possible for the kind of scale and reliability needed to manage the amounts of data processing we do. He talked about how Windows Azure has made software development easy for developers. He also harped a bit on Private Clouds and used the idea of federated models to justify their Private Cloud push.

Basically, it was a great sales talk on cloud computing and on Microsoft’s plans to take over the cloud world. I will add some of my thoughts watching this talk and what it means to cloud computing from my perspective.

  • The most important takeaway from his talk is that Microsoft is damn serious about cloud computing and they are going to go all out to capture the market. In the past, I have doubted Microsoft’s chances in the cloud and was even critical of their perceived lack of seriousness. With this talk, Microsoft has put an end to any such doubts. Steve Ballmer claimed that already 75% of their workforce are working directly on Cloud Computing related projects or on projects inspired by the Cloud. He said this number will raise to 90% in 2011. It definitely underscores their seriousness.
  • Essentially, the talk is a continuation of Microsoft’s (well, Ray Ozzie’s) push for three screens strategy. They want to be at the mobile, PC and the big television screens. Their push is more about their existing OSes and applications with cloud providing the necessary backend to store data. In fact, I also care only about my data in the cloud. Ideally, I would want my data sitting in the cloud and I should be able to access it from any device I want and from anywhere I want. However, the rich interface approach of Microsoft and Adobe poses some problems compared to the browser based approach of Google and other SaaS players. With Microsoft’s approach the traditional applications will have more features than their browser versions. This restricts users to only those operating systems and devices supported by Microsoft. Just take the example of the video of Steve Ballmer’s talk. You need silverlight to watch the video and it doesn’t work well with Google Chrome browser. Microsoft’s point of view of Chrome is that it doesn’t merit their attention due to the lack of marketshare at this time. The rich interface approach of Microsoft and Adobe using proprietary technologies are very restrictive and it doesn’t augur well for either cloud computing or the tech market. With an open standards based browser app strategy, users are not restricted to any specific device or operating system. Just take a look at how Google is overcoming the restrictions of Apple using mobile webapps. It is just a matter of time before these browser based apps match with the traditional applications on the richness of the interface.
  • Looks like Microsoft is going gaga over their Powerset acquisition and the push for Semantic Web ideas by Ballmer is a clear indication of where Microsoft wants to go in the future. They want to make it easy for users by using these technologies to make decisions on their behalf. I am really impressed with the new features released for Bing Maps. I really want a strong competition between Microsoft and Google on this front (Google services vs Live services) so that we, the users, gain ultimately. This competition is definitely going to get interesting.
  • Microsoft is embracing cloud computing deeply as a part of their mobile strategy. Even though I agree with them philosophically, I am still not convinced that they can gain big marketshare with Apple and Google having a strong foothold there.

Overall, it was good to see Microsoft pushing cloud computing even if it was skewed to fit their strategy. I have told many times that Microsoft is an important player in the cloud space. It will be interesting to watch if they can really catch up on the consumer side even though they have a better chance on the enterprise side.

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Krishnan Subramanian

Krish dons several avatars including entrepreneur in exile, analyst cum researcher, technology evangelist, blogger, ex-physicist, social/political commentator, etc.. My main focus is research and analysis on various high impact topics in the fields of Open Source, Cloud Computing and the interface between them. I also evangelize Open Source and Cloud Computing in various media outlets, blogs and other public forums. I offer strategic advise to both Cloud Computing and Open Source providers and, also, help other companies take advantage of Open Source and Cloud Computing. In my opinion, Open Source commoditized software and Cloud Computing commoditized computing resources. A combination of these two developments offers a strong competitive advantage to companies of all sizes and shapes. Due to various factors, including fear, the adoption of both Open Source and Cloud Computing are relatively slow in the business sector. So, I take it upon myself to clear any confusion in this regard and educate, enrich and advise users/customers to take advantage of the benefits offered by these technologies. I am also a managing partner in two consulting companies based in India. I blog about Open Source topics at http://open.krishworld.com and Cloud Computing related topics at http://www.cloudave.com.

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