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Cloud // Software as a Service

Microsoft Mum On 'Red Dog' Cloud Computing

The Windows-compatible platform can be seen as Microsoft's counterpart Amazon's Elastic Cloud Computing service, known as EC2, and to the Google App Engine.

Attempting to respond to cloud computing initiatives from Google and Amazon, Microsoft is apparently in the process of preparing a cloud-based platform for Windows that is codenamed "Red Dog."

Though reports of the project have been circulating in the blogosphere for months, Microsoft has not publicly described the service. Microsoft did not respond to repeated requests for comments for this story.

Providing developers with flexible, pay-as-you-go storage and hosting resources on Microsoft infrastructure, Red Dog can be seen as Microsoft's counterpart Amazon's Elastic Cloud Computing service, known as EC2, and to the Google App Engine, according to Reuven Cohen, founder and chief technologist for Toronto-based Enomaly, which offers its own open-source cloud platform.

"It seems that Microsoft is working on a project codenamed 'Red Dog' which is said to be an 'EC2 for Windows' cloud offering," Cohen wrote on his blog, Elastic Vapor, last week. "The details are sketchy, but the word on the street is that it will launch in October during Microsoft's PDC2008 developers conference in Los Angeles."

Writing on the Liveside blog, Kip Kniskern spotted a job ad for Microsoft in April that seeks a software design engineer to work on the "Microsoft Utility Computing Platform," which according to the ad "will lead the marketplace as the best platform for rapid development, deployment, and maintenance of internet services and applications."

The new platform will feature an "efficient, virtualized" environment with a "fully automated service management system" providing "highly scalable" storage services -- as with EC2 you only use the storage you need. The service will "scale to millions of machines" across Microsoft's data centers, the advertisement added.

Basing its Web-based strategy on a "software-plus-services" approach that combines traditional packaged software with cloud offerings, Microsoft officials have made a series of public statements over the last 18 months that make it clear that the Redmond, Wash. software giant is pushing with increased urgency to respond to the cloud computing movement that threatens to sweep traditional PC-based applications before it, including business platforms like Microsoft's dominant Office suite.

At Microsoft's annual Mix08 conference in March, Chief Software Architect Ray Ozzie said that the "utility computing model will reshape ... enterprise applications and solutions. All our software will be significantly refactored to provide a level of symmetry between enterprise-based software, partner-hosted services, and services in the cloud."

Exactly how that "refactoring" will take place remains unclear. In April Microsoft debuted Live Mesh, an ambitious plan to weave PCs, devices, and cloud computing to allow users to synchronize data across devices, automatically back up data on the Web, share content, and remotely access Internet-connected devices such as smartphones and laptops.

Red Dog, if it matches the descriptions currently circulating, will go one step further to give developers and enterprises the power of Microsoft's cloud-computing infrastructure to offer their own customers and employees Web apps and services.

The problem, of course, is that Microsoft -- unlike younger Web companies like Amazon and Google, still derives the lion's share of its revenues from packaged software and license fees. In that sense it is like the major oil companies, trying to keep the revenue from petroleum gushing while preparing for a post-oil world of renewable energy.

"The software-and-services model is very much stuff to buy them time," said Gartner senior analyst Ben Pring, to slow the pace of evolution to give themselves the space to make this transition.

"Unfortunately that puts them totally on the defensive the whole time."

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