Beyond the Clouds

Like many other people, I’ve been following some of the recent discussions and debates about what is often called “Cloud Computing”. Since this term has been applied to many scenarios, from using special-purpose web sites to publishing custom-written applications to hosted, virtualized computing resources,  I’ll restrict myself here to talking about “The Cloud” as the “Services” part of a “Software + Services” approach to meeting users’ needs.

For many years, Microsoft’s customers  (organizations and individuals) have been used to installing software on their own systems, to help them with their daily tasks and interests. The increasing ubiquity of good Internet connectivity has helped the growth of services that people use, often without installing any new software at all: all the computing logic “lives” in the service.

Software + Services” is a natural unification of these mechanisms for the delivery of the functionality that users need. There is a choice: the customer can decide whether they want to run the software themselves, or use it as a service, or do both.

My own product (Microsoft Exchange) is a great example of the choice that customers now have. Not only can the customer install Exchange and run it themselves, but they can obtain Exchange (per mailbox, per month) from Microsoft Online Services. Some users can have mailboxes operated by the customer, and some by Microsoft Online.

Needless to say, this flexibility is very appealing to many organizations: they really can have the best of both worlds.

Now, the debates are not so much about the principles of cloud computing, but the practice. And some of these debates have focused on comparisons of services from Microsoft and others. Exchange customers also hear about our online competitors, and are naturally curious about how the features and prices stack up.

There are many reasons for Microsoft to feel proud of what it has already achieved with Software + Services. A series of videos posted recently by Microsoft are intended to inform this discussion. Here, for example, my colleague Brandon discusses the virtues of Exchange Online, compared to Google’s Gmail.

“The Cloud” is part of almost everyone’s future. Microsoft realize this, and our CEO Steve Ballmer has spoken clearly and directly about our strategy in this video. Exchange is already there, as it is in many enterprises. The Software + Services approach will help us to deliver even richer functionality to our users in future, with the reliability, security and control that everyone should expect.