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Steve Ballmer’s Vision of Cloud Computing

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In a recent interview with Saul Hansell from “The New York Times”, Steve Ballmer shared his vision of cloud computing and Azure’s role.

Last year, Ballmer gave the following definition of cloud computing in an interview for CNET:

I think when people talk about cloud computing they're talking about taking some stuff, putting it outside the firewall, and perhaps putting it on servers that are also shared--or storage systems--that are also shared, perhaps with other companies that they know nothing about.

This is how Ballmer imagines Microsoft’s cloud computing strategy this year, according to Hansell:


Now, this picture needs some explanations. Practically, all the software Microsoft produces and sells, and which currently runs on servers, is rewritten to run in the cloud on Azure platform. “Windows Server” becomes “Windows Server” then “Windows Azure”. About SQL Server, absolutely necessary in the cloud, Ballmer said:

I’ll bet by the time we’re done, if I win, this will be called SQL Azure.

It seems that everything is going to run on Azure in Microsoft’s data center. On top there are Office programs, and Ballmer considers they are not going to be replaced by web sites like Google Docs:

Everyone says “You have to run in a browser.” That’s nonsense. When you run in the browser, you are not running HTML, you are just downloading code to the browser instead of downloading code to the PC.

Krishnan Subramanian, a cloud computing evangelist, does not agree with Ballmer interpretation of how browsers run applications:

This is plain wrong. I am not sure if Steve Ballmer said exactly this or the author of the article misinterpreted Mr. Ballmer. But, it is a plain misrepresentation of the facts and there is no way these two are one and the same. Using Mr. Ballmer’s words, it is plain nonsense. …

When services like Google Docs are accessed using the browser, it doesn't install software on the browser like the desktop applications. Rather, some of the services download a small script (maybe a few kilobytes to a Megabyte) to the browser (stored in temporary folders and, usually, removed after the session is closed) in order to offer a desktop like experience to the users. In fact, most of the heavy lifting is done on the server side, in the Clouds.

Subramanian thinks Ballmer uses this approach in fact to justify Microsoft’s Software+Services (S+S) strategy:

It is sad that facts are misrepresented to justify the S+S strategy of Microsoft. I would prefer if Microsoft gives out some really valid reasons to convince users to buy their shrink wrapped software than giving out such wrong information.

Talking about Microsoft’s advances in cloud computing, Ballmer does not see Google as a threat:

This is all so early. It’s early for Amazon. VMware is just barely there. We’re barely there. Google isn’t there yet. …

It took us 10 years to establish our enterprise capability and this company, Google, hasn’t really begun to focus. We understand what the enterprise needs: security, compliance, archiving.

Ballmer’s vision may not be so clear when drawn by hand on a whiteboard, but he is confident Microsoft has made their homework and will be a winner in this game.

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