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Ray Ozzie Explains Cloud Computing For The Enterprise

How should IT departments prepare for Microsoft's forthcoming Azure cloud computing services? That was what we wanted to know when InformationWeek sat down with Microsoft chief software architect Ray Ozzie at the company's Professional Developers Conference this week in Los Angeles.

Microsoft chief software architect Ray Ozzie

Ray Ozzie, Microsoft chief software architect

On Oct. 27, Ozzie unveiled the Windows Azure "service foundation" and Azure Services Platform, which together are Microsoft's answer to Amazon Web Services, Google App Engine, and other on-demand computing services. Azure is still an early stage services platform; it's available only in a limited technology preview for developers, and Microsoft didn't disclose when Azure services would be generally available. Our best guess is the second half of 2009 or later.

Azure services will be hosted in Microsoft's data centers, giving businesses an alternative to managing their own servers, databases, and storage systems for some applications. Ozzie suggests that Azure could result in lower IT costs for businesses, but Microsoft hasn't disclosed pricing. We interviewed Ozzie at the Los Angeles Convention Center.

INFORMATIONWEEK: We're glad to be able to finally start talking about Microsoft's cloud strategy.

OZZIE: I've been talking about it in the abstract for so long, even though they are technology previews, having code and demonstrations to back up the vision is really great. It's exciting.

INFORMATIONWEEK: It's not as though all the work is behind you.

OZZIE: No, it's just beginning, the grand opening.

INFORMATIONWEEK: We want to delve into this from the point of view of the IT department. What do enterprises need to do to get ready for Azure and cloud computing?

OZZIE: The fact that we're beginning to talk to developers about this means that we can begin the conversation with IT about what all this means over time. That conversation is nuanced, and it relates to virtualization and "private clouds," using this kind of technology within their own data centers incrementally to save money and operate more efficiently. It should begin to help them analyze the kinds of things they have on their machines to separate infrastructure that doesn't necessarily add unique business value from the systems that they really believe are unique to their business and that they need control over.

If there's an opportunity to run the infrastructure pieces in the cloud, they should know which ones they're willing to try first. Microsoft has online offerings [CRM, Exchange, Office Communication Server, SharePoint] that are actually going to be the first touch point of most of our enterprise customers with the cloud. Azure is great for leading edge developers, people who really want to get their skills up to date in terms of where things are going, but for enterprise IT, Exchange Online and SharePoint Online are probably right up front.

My recommendation to every enterprise worldwide, to any enterprise that has Active Directory, would be to put a small number of seats of Exchange or SharePoint online, because in doing so you immediately learn how to connect your directory up into the cloud. You start to deal with a management console that lets you provision services to users. You'll start to confront your own issues of up time. You'll start to frame what kind of a pipe you'll need into the Internet. It will give you the ability to start knowing what you don't know.

There's a tremendous amount of promise once they get to that point, because once they get comfortable with a small number of seats, then it's a very quick decision, it's a group policy change, and then suddenly they've got lots more users on it, and their users will never really be aware of that switchover.

For the enterprise and for the enterprise developer, the classic VAR who builds apps that serve the enterprise, the biggest news was that once an enterprise brings online or online-branded things into their company, third parties will be able to be provisioned exactly the same way. Today it's very difficult for a niche solution provider to provide a service to an enterprise. It's not like software; a VAR will bring in a disk, fire up a server, connect it to Active Directory, and use standard group policy to provision it to users.

For services, it's not that easy. Even with all the promise of easy on and all this, in order to provision it to users internally, what are you going to do, give each person a new ID for that service and a new ID for that other service? We aren't in a world right now where federation is broadly used. And we've created in our online properties one-click federation between the enterprise and our Live ID ecosystem so that now business developers can hook into that and serve a world of enterprises that they might not have been able to do otherwise.

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