Cloud computing, Infrastructure as a service (IaaS): nothing new about that. Yet the month of June saw two momentous announcements.
The first was from Microsoft, which announced the addition of IaaS to its Azure platform, along with a new management portal that may prove equally significant, for reasons I will give in a moment.
The second was from Google, at its IO 2012 conference, when it announced Google Compute Engine (GCE), which lets you launch Linux virtual machines (VMs) on Google's platform.
Google may be a new player in the IaaS market but you would also think that managing this stuff will come naturally to a company which has built its own search and cloud services on a massively scaleable cloud. Google also has a good track record in terms of reliability, when you look at its existing Google Apps services. It is not perfect; but then neither are others such as Amazon or Salesforce.com, both of which have occasional service interruptions.
In fact, one of the advantages of major new entrants into the market is the possibility of building fail-safe solutions across several cloud vendors, making it less likely that cloud downtime will cause severe loss of business.
What about Windows Azure? This one has made a big impression on me, partly because (unlike GCE) I have been able to try it out, as well as speaking to Microsoft Corporate VP Scott Guthrie about the new features.
He told me how, soon after he moved to work on Azure in 2011, his team sat down and tried using the service, encountering numerous problems ranging from sign-up difficulties to problems finding documentation.
Since then Microsoft has released not only a wide range of new features, including durable VMs alongside the existing stateless VMs, but also a new administration portal that is a pleasure to use.
Does that matter, when what really counts is the cloud technology, its performance and reliability?
I think it does. A good user experience changes behaviour. It is now so easy to log in and create a VM on Azure, that I will be using this myself when I need to spin up a server to test some software. Click Virtual Machine - From Gallery - pick an operating system - type a name and password, select a machine size, and it is done. A few minutes later you can log in with remote desktop and get working.
With a bit of effort, you can even connect Azure to your internal network.
If it is easy to get started, users are more likely to try it out and, all going well, start using the service in anger. My expectation is that Azure will see a lot more activity as a result.
It has taken too long, but Microsoft is now a real contender in cloud infrastructure.
With Google also coming into play, you may wonder if Amazon will finally feel some heat. I actually doubt that. It is a growing market, and Amazon is the leader by far.
It seems to me that it is more the other, smaller cloud hosters who should worry, as well as those in the on-premise server market. Increasingly, you will not only be testing your new solutions in the cloud, but deploying them there as well.