Ozzie Reveals More Details of Cloud Development Platform
Microsoft Chief Software Architect Ray Ozzie made another rare public appearance in late July and provided a closer look at the development infrastructure set to power the company's "Software Plus Services" push.
Speaking at Redmond's annual Financial Analyst Meeting on July 26, Ozzie made it clear that the company's core business of client operating system software will remain a major part of its strategy. "Every one of our software offerings is either a socket for a new attached service that connects to that software offering, or an upgrade or up-sell opportunity to extend a product's value proposition up to the Web and, potentially, through mobile devices," Ozzie said.
Ozzie gave a presentation on how Redmond intends to make this shift through a multiple-layer services-development platform.
Microsoft is calling the platform's bottom layer "Global Foundation Services." It includes the major datacenters Microsoft has been building for some time, along with the networking assets that provide links to the Internet, Ozzie said.
Next up is the "Cloud Infrastructure Services" layer, which Ozzie termed "a utility computing fabric upon which all of our online services run.
"It has application frameworks that support a variety of app models that are designed for horizontal scaling. And it has infrastructure that manages the automatic deployment and load balancing and performance optimization of the apps that it's managing running on its infrastructure," he added.
Sitting on top of this will be the "Live Platform Services" layer, which will contain services meant to serve applications, according to Ozzie. "These are services like identity services, contact lists -- this is the layer where our social graph of your relationships lives, your presence and rendezvous, communication services. Perhaps most importantly, our advertising platform infrastructure lives at this level," he said.
The final layer will consist of the service applications themselves, powered by technology such as Silverlight, Microsoft's new cross-platform browser plug-in for rich Internet applications, Ozzie said.
All told, Microsoft's efforts to create a hosted, monetized development platform fits into a trend some analysts are calling "Platform as a Service," or PaaS.
Analyst and blogger David Linthicum of the Linthicum Group LLC suggests Microsoft is hewing to reality, as opposed to laying out a unique vision for the future. "I think Microsoft sees the writing on the wall in terms of the movement toward PaaS," Linthicum says. "Indeed, they're perhaps building the mother of all PaaSes, and this will reflect on how we build applications and core enterprise architecture."
For now, though, Redmond is playing catch-up to rivals like Google Inc., which has a mega-sized datacenter operation in place, a hugely profitable ad system, a growing number of hosted productivity applications and heavily rumored ambitions toward the enterprise computing market.
And Microsoft's archrival in the CRM space, Salesforce.com Inc., has already announced its Apex programming platform. Applications developed on the platform can be packaged as a Web service, and hosted and shared with other subscribers through the company's AppExchange.
Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer revealed in a recent speech that Redmond plans to do something much like Apex with "Titan," the code-name for its upcoming Live Dynamics CRM release. Ballmer said developers can use the underlying declarative programming model used by Dynamics to write "your own Titan applications either on-premise hosted or hosted in our datacenter."
Microsoft is also readying BizTalk Services, an attempt to provide what Microsoft calls an "Internet service bus" with services for purposes including workflow, identity and connectivity.
What remains unclear, however, is the overall story for developers. The company's cloud development initiatives do build off established technology and the .NET Framework, but as RDN columnist and Directions on Microsoft analyst Greg DeMichillie noted recently, existing Live services suffer from uneven licensing rules and a non-uniform programming model.
Ozzie indicated Microsoft needs a significant amount of time to fully bake its plans, saying announcements regarding the new platform will occur during the next 12 to 18 months -- and the chief software architect spared no drama in describing the company's goals. "... We believe we're the only company with the platform DNA that's necessary to viably deliver this highly leveragable platform approach to services. And we're certainly one of the few companies that has the financial capacity to capitalize on this sea change, this services transformation."
John Robbins of the consultancy Wintellect suggests the Software Plus Services scenario -- which some have derided as Redmond's attempt to preserve its core business even while acknowledging development's move to the cloud -- could be attractive to enterprise customers. "When you look at what a lot of these bigger shops have done with Word and Excel, and now you can tie it in with SharePoint and Windows Workflow Foundation, that's a compelling story," he says.
Chris Kanaracus is the news editor for Redmond Developer News.