By now you're surely aware of the [relatively] huge announcements Microsoft made last month about their new Azure platform.
Basically Microsoft is buying hundreds of thousands of Dell servers that they will run themselves. They also wrote their own hypervisor (not Hyper-V... rumor is it's Xen-based) and modified Windows Server 2008 to run in a redundant grid-like way. Now that they've got (or perhaps I should say, now that they're building) this platform, they're going to start selling access on it to compete in the platform/application/software-as-a-service space. (Someone referred to this as XaaS, which I like.) Microsoft is calling this thing "cloud"-based, although Chris Hoff picks that apart in his blog. Quoting him:
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Look, when I'm forced into vendor lock-in in order to host my applications and I am confined to one vendor's datacenters without portability, that's not " the cloud" and it's not an "open architecture," it's marketing-speak for "we're now your ASP/XaaS service provider of choice." Azure doesn't run "in the cloud." It's a set of hosted services connected to the Internet. In this case the "cloud" is more like fog which encircles the islands of data inhabited by Dr. Moreau and his ghoulish API-infected creatures.
So getting to the point of this blog post, what (if anything) does Azure have to do with those of us in the application and desktop delivery space?
In general we've been able to ignore a lot of this cloud stuff. (Not because the cloud is not ready, but because it's more about the platform and less about applications. Sure, the platform is important, but we ourselves are specifically focused on delivering applications to users, and the cloud isn't about that.)
That said, there are specific aspects of The Cloud (and therefore Azure) that are relevant to us. Because after all, isn't the whole point of IT about providing applications? And isn't the whole point of any IT infrastructure--be it a network, storage, a database, or a cloud--to support the delivery of applications? So sure, you can move Office to the web, (or the cloud or to Azure), and that's fine. But that's ho-hum to us. We've been dealing with web apps versus local apps for ten years. Each has pros and cons. Web apps get richer. Local apps get more virtual. But that doesn't fundamentally change our lives. The business decides what apps they want, and we deliver them.
Back to Azure, Ozzie did a good job talking about the value of each part. A PC has local data, offline capability, and fast interaction. The service-based backend allows you to connect to coworkers and backup data and not have to worry about whether you have the latest version of a presentation on your USB stick. Etc. So yeah, this can (and eventually will) be H-U-G-E for developers. But we in the application delivery community can view Azure in the same way we view any of this cloud stuff, in that right now, it really is just for developers. Developers have to write (or re-write or extend) their apps to run from the cloud (or to become cloud-aware, or whatever). Once that's done, then it's up to us to figure out how to get the damn thing to the user. If that means we have to push it out via App-V, fine. If we need to provide ICA access via XenApp, fine. If we need to put up a web server and point users to a URL, fine. If it runs locally and talks to a rich backend, fine. Whether the client is rich or lite, whether it's Silverlight, AIR, Gears, or Java, we have to make sure the user is able to run it on his or her device.
Will Azure affect us? Absolutely. Is there anything we need to do about it today? Nope.