Microsoft's gunning for AWS, but it could be too little, too late

Posted by Ron Miller on Mar 13, 2014 10:42:00 AM

3680515640_62bd994565_oMicrosoft under the new sheriff, Satya Nadella, is reportedly ready to take the cloud seriously – no, really. And according to an article in Investor's Business Daily, it's gunning for nothing less than top dog, AWS

That's a tall order for any company, especially one that seems to have a love-hate relationship with the cloud. But even Box CEO Aaron Levie, speaking at South by Southwest earlier this week, suggested Microsoft's cloud strategy under Nadella could be the real deal.

But Levie pointed out in his humorous way that Box also had a five-year head start on Microsoft and that he was confident in his company. By the same token, AWS has a similar head start and both Box and AWS have the advantage of being born in the cloud.

Microsoft not only has to play catch up here, but they also need to compete with other in-house projects for resources, some of which may conflict with any Microsoft cloud vision. Microsoft is always going to be saddled with its legacy products and limited by corporate politics, whereas companies like Box and AWS have always been in the cloud and have an inherent understanding of how to create services that work in the cloud.

For Microsoft, it's often about building services that were originally created for the desktop or for client-server network architecture and adapting them for the cloud. Office 365 is a perfect example. Office began life as a desktop software suite. Office 365 might have been more a strategic move than an afterthought, but it was still an adaptation and it's hard to escape that. 

Azure is reportedly a great platform, but it needs to fight for internal resources and attention while also battling platforms built specifically for the cloud, including several savvy startups and open source projects like Cloud Foundry.

Microsoft is in a position of playing catch up, which can't be a comfortable place to live. They are in a similar position in mobile. The most forward-thinking individuals in the company certainly understand that they need to be in cloud and mobile as soon as possible, but they have to spend energy fighting that fight on company direction and vision, something that pure cloud companies would never have to do.

Yet Microsoft clearly understands this position. When you look at its recent SharePoint conference, the company continued to push its customers to the cloud, even though many customers are still resisting such a move. To sweeten the pot, Microsoft has created cloud on-ramps to help customers make a smoother transition and live in a hybrid world where some of their services are in the cloud and some remain in-house behind the firewall.

They have also announced they are eliminating SharePoint social tools, so if you want enterprise social, you have to go with Yammer, a tool that's only available in the cloud. 

In these ways, Microsoft is trying to convince customers that it's in their best interest to move to the cloud, but customers who are often traditional, old-school IT shops are not ready to make that move. Microsoft is going where it needs to go, but its customer base might not be ready to go with them and that's a problem for them.

Cloud company customers are buying their services because they are already convinced that the cloud is a viable model. They don't have to be sold like Microsoft's customers. What's more, cloud customers are less likely to want to use Microsoft services because they are looking for pure cloud alternatives who understand the space better.

That means unless Microsoft can find a way to move their existing customers to the cloud, they are going to have a hard time succeeding there, all of these other reasons not withstanding.

Photo Credit: laradanielle on Flickr. Used under CC 2.0 license

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