All of the big tech companies have an angle on cloud computing these days. Microsoft revealed its take on the cloud at TechEd 2010 this week in New Orleans, including a chart that provides a great visual of where Microsoft's specific products fit into the mix.
Cloud computing is an elusive term, but it has essentially become a catch-all for technology services delivered on-demand over the Internet. Nearly all of the big vendors in IT are talking about the cloud, from IBM to HP to Cisco, because after several years of scoffing at the cloud IT leaders have changed their tune in 2010 and listed virtualization (a cloud-enabler) and cloud computing as their top two priorities, according to a broad CIO survey by Gartner.
Of course, Google and Amazon want to help companies ditch their existing IT infrastructure, migrate to the cloud, and then simple pay for usage. In May, EMC scoffed at the idea that most enterprises would move to "the public cloud" hosted by companies like Amazon and Google. Instead, EMC promoted its vision of the private cloud, which would allow enterprises to keep much of their current investment in legacy code and custom applications while taking advantage of the efficiency and scalability gains of the cloud. Calling this "the private cloud" is a bit of a marketing ploy. It's basically just a move to virtualize existing enterprise servers and storage.
Since Microsoft has such as huge installed base in the enterprise, it's natural to expect that Microsoft would take a similar approach to EMC. However, in addition to its play in virtualization and traditional data centers, Microsoft has also been on a massive data center building binge, and these facilities are primarily aimed at growing the company's public cloud capacity. And, that's why we've also seen Microsoft moving toward offering its own hosted Exchange and SharePoint services, for example. So Microsoft is essentially entering a horse in both races.
How does it all fit together? Here's the slide that Microsoft trotted out at TechEd to illustrate its vision of public vs. private cloud:
In other words, Microsoft wants to play both sides, serve existing customers that have huge investments in old infrastructure while winning new business from SMBs looking to go all-cloud. While that lack of focus is the kind of thing that has hurt Microsoft at times in the past, it may actually be a sound strategy when it comes to the cloud because we really don't know how all of this will shake out once the cloud hype dies down.
Even if the cloud gets huge, there could likely be a 50/50 split between private and public cloud deployments for the next decade as enterprises transition old systems. Microsoft is one of the few companies with significant assets on both sides, which will also put it in a great position to help those companies that want to split IT systems between private and public clouds. That could become an increasing trend as both platforms mature, with commoditized stuff moving to the public cloud and more sensitive or mission-critical stuff being reserved for the private cloud.
Jason Hiner is Editor in Chief of TechRepublic and Long Form Editor of ZDNet. He writes about the people, products, and ideas changing how we live and work in the 21st century. He's co-author of the upcoming book, Follow the Geeks (bit.ly/ftgeeks).