Can Microsoft grab cloud market supremacy?

Microsoft grab cloud supremacy

As ‘digital transformation’ continues to be the channel’s buzz phrase – spilling unbidden from the lips of executives from almost every vendor and partner alike – which of the cloud giants are best placed to facilitate it?

At Microsoft’s annual Decoded conference in London this month, the vendor was insistent in its claim that it has spearheaded a push from behind to challenge Amazon Web Services’ (AWS) previous market dominance.

It may be the defining tech battle of our time, generating provocative headlines and public tit-for-tat exchanges, but partners are more interested in the bottom line: what’s in it for us?

Better the devil you know

For many companies, overwhelmed by the seemingly endless plethora of features, and shifting value proposition of vendors, the familiar can be appealing.

Enterprise firms, which have already been committed to a variety of Microsoft products for years, are likely to see Azure as their natural primary cloud provider.

In fact, several resellers at Microsoft’s expo started with this explanation for why they went with Azure.

It is perhaps unsurprising, considering that Microsoft has a foothold in terms of its ubiquitous desktop software and enterprise agreements with these larger firms, and is better placed to cross-sell Azure.

CEO of The Internet Group (TIG) Des Lekerman agrees that Microsoft is an attractive draw.

“Microsoft has always been partner-centric and I think there are definitely more partners out there in the Microsoft ecosystem than with AWS,” he said.

Lekerman added that it’s in the last year that Microsoft has made significant inroads against AWS.

“A lot of companies out there are using Microsoft software for their operating systems and things like Office and Office 365, so it’s a more natural transition to Microsoft cloud for production systems.”

Security and start-ups

Getting down to the nitty gritty of features, Microsoft’s security solutions have been particularly impressing Lekerman:

“Azure information protection protects the digital assets of a company and allows you to secure Word and Excel documents and manage the access and restrictions around those documents – who’s got the right to print and forward, for example – and that’s certainly a unique thing for Microsoft. I think the Active Directory secure authentication, and multi-factor authentication are also unique for Microsoft.

“Then if you talk about SQL platform-as-a-service, so when you move from on-premise SQL to a SQL platform, that really lowers the cost of using a SQL database and provides for scalability and flexibility.”

He added that Azure’s real value is “around the applications rather than just the standard infrastructure as a service (IaaS) model”.

However, Lekerman did highlight AWS’ popularity for start-ups that look to develop and scale to market rapidly.

“On the other hand, AWS, historically, has been very successful for DevOps, or developers that are looking to spin environments up, and new start-ups tend to go towards AWS, more so than established businesses.”

A hybrid differentiator

It’s true that the fierce competition between the cloud giants has helped to drive down costs, but Microsoft has added value this year not in pricing, but in flexibility.

It announced a differentiator in the cloud battle in the form of Azure Stack – Microsoft’s private cloud service. Available to customers since September, it comes with an array of API-enabled services ready to run locally, but at public cloud scale.

It was the logical conclusion of Microsoft’s long-held strategy to focus on the kind of hybrid cloud deployments that allow enterprises the flexibility to run workloads in a public cloud and on-premise in their own datacentres.

At Microsoft Decoded, Julia White, corporate VP of Azure and security marketing at Microsoft, said that this kind of new hybrid public-private model is ideal for tackling multiple sovereignty compliance laws, without having to create several applications or systems.

“From a platform perspective, we are doing something revolutionary in delivering the Azure Stack, which is taking a stamp of the public cloud and enabling it to run in a small footprint locally,” she said.

“There are some places where we don’t have a local datacentre, so Azure Stack enables you to run with literally any compliance or privacy requirement by having [your applications] run local in the location in that country, wherever that might be.”

White cited EY, which uses Azure to run its global auditing system but in the regions where there are restrictions in moving financial data outside that country, it uses Azure stack.

Every second counts

For Amazon’s partners, they too had a flashy cloud development this year. However, in Amazon’s case, it absolutely was about pricing.

In September, the vendor colossus declared that it will be introducing per-second billing for some forms of its EC2 and EBS services, bringing it into line with rivals Microsoft, as well as Google Cloud. Amazon may well have hoped that the move would negate the criticism of some in the market that for enterprise applications, the cost of going with AWS can become prohibitive.

Every second counts

For Amazon’s partners, they too had a flashy cloud development this year. However, in Amazon’s case, it absolutely was about pricing.

In September, the vendor colossus declared that it will be introducing per-second billing for some forms of its EC2 and EBS services, bringing it into line with rivals Microsoft, as well as Google Cloud. Amazon may well have hoped that the move would negate the criticism of some in the market that for enterprise applications, the cost of going with AWS can become prohibitive.

Multi-cloud: Many fingers in many pies

However, speaking to CRN at Microsoft Decoded, Constantine said the future for cloud is multicloud – going with more than one provider for different applications and projects.

“Personally, I think both of their offerings [AWS and Azure] have pretty much equal merit, and many companies are choosing to go with both because actually, they’re useful for different kinds of workloads. If you look at where AWS has come from, it’s very much a platform whose legacy is in new-world applications – so Webscale, moving digital content to movie devices: that is its heritage.

“Azure are very different. It’s much more an enterprise-type application stack where people are moving from on premise to the cloud, so they attack the market from very different angles. So you will see nine out of 10 machines on Amazon still being Linux-based, as they’re very much used for new-world applications. While Azure is the exact opposite: nine out of 10 of the machines on Azure are Windows-based because that’s where they’ve come from.

“So for me it’s not about which cloud is better, it’s about what application are you trying to develop for your business, what are you trying to run.

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