Why Microsoft’s PC-Inspired Cloud Strategy Might Work

I wrote a few weeks ago that “Microsoft taught the world how to succeed in PC and business software, but it might [be] teaching the world how to not succeed in cloud computing” However, that’s a fate it could avoid if it just delivered on a clear vision. As I point out in my weekly column for GigaOM Pro, it looks like Microsoft has decided on that vision: Treat cloud computing like it treated the PC business.

With the announcement of Windows Azure Appliances (WAP), Microsoft is once again looking to server makers to sell its software, but now it has added service providers to the mix too. If it’s to make Windows Azure the Windows operating system of cloud computing, its “OEM” partners will be the key.

Historically, most server makers have been content to develop the hardware platform but strike OEM deals for the operating system (along with other components). If application platforms are the operating systems of cloud computing, why not carry this practice over to the cloud? Large hardware vendors like Dell, HP and Fujitsu (who’s already signed on as a service provider) can cloud-optimize their data centers while leaving platform development to Microsoft, VMware, Joyent and anybody else so inclined to sell their platforms to service providers.

Even Rackspace — which could be considered a Microsoft competitor in the cloud — is considering getting in on the WAP action.

Of course, if this pans out at any notable scale, cloud computing could become business as usual for Microsoft. Is cloud computing a low-margin business? It is if you’re selling straight to developers. However, a large distribution channel for Windows Azure — a quality offering in its own right — will attract users. Hoping to capture these users’ dollars, more ISVs will build applications on top of Azure. Seeing a robust ecosystem, even more customers will follow suit. All of a sudden, Windows Azure is a must-have offering for service providers and Microsoft can reap the rewards just as it did with Windows operating systems. Right?

Read the full post from GigaOM Pro here.

Image source: Flickr user Robert Scoble