After hemming and hawing for months over its cloud strategy, Microsoft has finally unveiled Azure Services Platform, a set of hosted software services that, once available, can be used to build and run applications in the cloud. Microsoft's grand plan, however, leaves key questions unanswered.I've been taking it all in at Microsoft's Professional Developers Conference in Los Angeles, where Microsoft keeps the attendees going with vats of Starbucks coffee and tables of cream-filled cupcakes, beef jerky, ice cream, and fruit. Among the questions they're left to mull as they munch: Who? How? When? At what cost?
Who? Amid the companies that came out in support of Azure, none are enterprise IT departments. I pressed Microsoft officials to name a single business customer that's an early adopter of Azure, but to no avail. With thousands of business customers, it's telling that Microsoft couldn't find one to discuss Azure at this important public unveiling.
How? Microsoft folks repeatedly made the point that there's no business model yet for Windows Azure, so details on price, availability, SLAs, and other basics are lacking. In fact, not only is that information not available, but we don't know when it will be available. Azure Services Platform is in "limited community technology preview," which is Microsoft's way of saying it's half-baked.
When? The absence of a firm delivery date for Windows Azure isn't surprising or unusual, but Microsoft won't even commit to a year. Will the services, or at least some of them, be generally available in 2009 or in 2010? Microsoft's not saying. If you read the tea leaves, you might get the impression that Azure services will begin to appear in the second half of 2009, but that's speculation.
At what cost? We don't know what Windows Azure services will cost or how they will be priced. Will it be by gigabytes of storage, by CPU usage, by the hour, by the user, or something else? Without a price list, IT managers can't do cost comparisons between on-premises applications and Azure-hosted applications, or between Azure and Google App Engine or Amazon Web Services.
The implications of a Microsoft cloud are far-reaching and, yes, even revolutionary. But we don't yet know when it will become available, what it will cost, or how IT departments will adopt it. The details are everything.