Microsoft this week announced a new program that will allow hosting service providers to use existing data centers to deliver a white-label version of Azure. This is a progression from the announcement last month that Microsoft was giving developers the ability to achieve symmetry between public and private PaaS with .NET as this announcement heads all the way down to the actual hosting providers to give them infrastructure level symmetry. I spoke to this opportunity last month when I said that the PaaS news suggested that;

indications are that Microsoft sees this move as much broader than .NET, rather it’s an opportunity to go wide and attract large numbers of applications on Azure, regardless of language

This move gives hosters a freely available UX framework open which they can give their customers a consistent user experience between private/hosted clouds and public Azure. It is similar to a failed attempt by Microsoft a couple of years ago to offer an Azure Appliance – that time they were targeting large partners like Dell, HP and Fujitsu, but the offering never really took off and there was no strong message around offering end users the benefits of workload portability across a hybrid cloud.

With this move, Microsoft essentially introduces another option for hosters to consider when it comes to offering a cloud solution – and is another competitor to VMware’s vCloud, Citrix’ CloudSTack, the OpenStack consortium and other smaller players such as Eucalyptus. In fact GoDaddy is piloting Azure powered cloud products, GoDaddy announced its cloud offering powered by CloudStack last year – we’re yet to see whether Azure is replacing CloudStack or simply another offering alongside it.

Always one to jump on board when it comes to Microsoft announcements, Apprenda announced today that hosting providers who use the newly minted Microsoft Service Management Portal can seamlessly add Apprenda’s private PaaS to their list of offerings. This is a good win for Apprenda who are now able to extend their footprint into individual hosts and become part of those hosts service catalog.

Initially, Microsoft will be enabling hosting service providers to offer individual websites, SQL Server databases and Virtual Machines through the Service Management Portal. While this does set up the situation where Microsoft essentially enables hosters to compete with core Microsoft Azure products, it also allows for a wider Azure footprint and a much more consistent hybrid cloud story – which is a great counter to the hybrid cloud offerings such as those from HP and numerous other vendors.


This move sees Microsoft strongly move from being a company selling Azure services, to a company selling the idea of Azure as the cloud system of choice. In announcing the program, Satya Nadella, president of the Server and Tools business spoke to this move when he said that;

We’ve taken everything that we’ve learned from running data centers and services at a global scale to usher in the new era of the cloud OS…

At the moment there is a massive move for mind and marketshare and, as yet, no vendor or cloud system can claim it has really gained a predominant position when it comes to powering hybrid cloud. While AWS is winning in terms of public share, their hybrid story, through a partnership with Eucalyptus, was introduced far too late given the rise of the hybrid cloud phenomenon. OpenStack is a contender for this throne, and HP is spending huge amounts of resource to tell a hybrid cloud story based on top of OpenStack, but this too is a recent change and customers are arguably still sitting on the fence when it comes to assessing the long term maturity and stability of OpenStack. VMware has obvious wide adoption with vCloud, and has a couple of years head start on Microsoft, but in conversations with hosters that I’ve had, there would seem to be a degree of distrust around VMware – Microsoft will no doubt try and leverage this to get a footprint.

I’d expect this initiative to be rolled out further and over the next few months see the messaging of Azure more strongly centered on the Cloud Operating System theme – with this logical progression, foretold by moves over the past year or so, Microsoft will be clearly positioning itself as a direct competitor to the other cloud stacks out there – and more choice is better for eveyone.

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Ben Kepes

Ben Kepes is a technology evangelist, an investor, a commentator and a business adviser. Ben covers the convergence of technology, mobile, ubiquity and agility, all enabled by the Cloud. His areas of interest extend to enterprise software, software integration, financial/accounting software, platforms and infrastructure as well as articulating technology simply for everyday users.

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