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Reaching for the Cloud?

When it comes to Microsoft's Azure cloud services, it seems developers are either quite immersed in the technical underpinnings of Redmond's next-generation platform or they're ambivalent about it.

Microsoft this week showcased some of its customers' various mindsets on cloud computing at its Enterprise Developer and Solutions Conference in New York. The customers -- which include The New York Times, Merrill Lynch, Raytheon and Netsoft USA -- joined Doug Hauger, general manager of Microsoft's cloud infrastructure services, onstage Tuesday during the event's keynote address. Naturally, given the host was Microsoft, they were enthusiastic about the prospects for cloud computing and Azure. But they were tempered in their assessments by concerns over security, privacy, availability, reliability, compliance and other relevant issues.

Take John Slaby, chief engineer of defense contractor Raytheon, who pointed out that there's a movement in the Department of Defense to develop a global information grid. While cloud computing at some point will be a key solution, security is still an issue.

"You've got to get to the point where the cloud can be secured so it can handle highly classified kinds of events, but I think it is the direction that they are moving," Slaby said.

Others had similar assessments. "You do have to think about those things as you move to the cloud," Hauger said.

Despite those concerns about cloud computing, one key component of the cloud, Software as a Service, is poised to grow 22 percent this year, Gartner said in a report released today. Revenues for applications running on such services will total $9.6 billion, and will top $16 billion by 2013, Gartner said.

"Software as a Service has become a more acceptable deployment alternative in general," said Gartner analyst Sharon Mertz. "It's more often being considered as another sourcing strategy for many companies."

For Microsoft, things with Azure will heat up in the coming months. Hauger said Microsoft is on track to announce pricing at its Worldwide Partner Conference in July and roll out the service at its Professional Developers Conference in November.

Microsoft is taking every opportunity it can to get developers to download the Azure SDK to start building applications.

Its most recent effort launched this week is the Azure Developer Challenge, a contest the company hopes will showcase applications designed to run on Microsoft's Azure cloud platform. It's available to .NET and PHP developers. Steven Martin, developer platform product manager at Microsoft, announced the contest on his blog Monday.

"We're looking for innovative apps developed with the user experience in mind that are applicable to the real-world and highlight new opportunities cloud computing brings to developer," Martin wrote.

The company is offering awards of up to $5,000 and has categories for both .NET and PHP developers. In the .NET category, the app should use ASP.NET or Silverlight, and bring in other Azure sevices such as .NET Services or Live Services, in addition to other Microsoft and third party apps, Martin noted.

In the PHP category, interoperability will be a key measuring point both with other cloud platforms and APIs.

Judging the entries will be RedMonk analyst Michael Cote and Om Malik, founder of GigaOM Network. Rules and entry information are available here.

For those who have tested the Azure SDK, have you done so on your own time, or is your company encouraging you to put it through the rigors for potential deployment? Express yourself by posting to this blog or at [email protected].

Posted by Jeffrey Schwartz on 05/07/2009


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