Monday, October 27, 2008

Azure -- and the Other Clouds Players -- Should Lean Forward

Since I covered Azure pretty well two weeks ago, there's not much to add except the name and the open question of which parts of the platform can be run in-house, on AMIs, or anywhere outside of MSFT data centers (via a hosting partner). And Microsoft hasn't really addressed that either (I have questions in at PDC) so the answer appears to be "not yet, stay tuned."

Now that the semi-news is out of the way, I am a little disappointed that all the cloud players haven't leaned in more, in terms of providing added-value capabilities beyond scaling. Elastic scaling is valuable, but it's a tradeoff. You are paying significantly more to be in the cloud than you would be to host equivalent compute power on own machines, or on VMs or app server instances at a consolidated host.

If you have reasonable projections about your capacity, then you're wasting money on the elasticity premium. You do get some nice operations/management capabilities ... but for apps that really need them, you still need to bring a bunch of your own, and you're taking on someone else's ops risks too.

For some businesses, these costs make sense. Here are some value-added features that would make the price persuasive for more people outside that core group:

  1. Relational and transaction capabilities. Microsoft does get the prize here, as they are the only ones offering this right now. Distributed transactions and even joins are expensive. So charge as appropriate. It's a meaningful step beyond the $/VM-CPU-cycle model that dominates now.
  2. Reverse AJAX (comet and friends). Here is a feature that is easy to describe, tricky to get right and multiplies the value of server resource elasticity. It's a perfect scenario for an established player to sell on-demand resources, and could be a differentiator in a field sorely lacking qualitative differentiation.
  3. XMPP and XMPP/BOSH (leveraging the reverse AJAX capability above). XMPP is clearly not just for IM anymore, and may evolve into the next generation transport for "web" services. Not to mention, having a big opinionated player involved may help at the next layer in the stack, namely how a payload+operation gets represented over XMPP for interop.

Those are just a couple of ideas that spring to mind -- I'm sure there are much better ones out there. To make the cloud more of a "pain killer" than a "vitamin" for more people, some new hard-to-DIY features are the way to go.

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