Azure clouds corporate picture

Microsoft's announcement that it is working on the Windows Azure operating system for the cloud last week adds more competitive pressure to the cloud space - and another possible worry for users. As Amazon, IBM, Microsoft and other vendors innovate by adding proprietary differentiators to their cloud offerings, will IT organizations risk being locked in? Will the options for creating a corporate computing cloud be increasingly closed and more limited, based on who supports whose APIs and where alliances lay?

Right now, software licensing issues are a big challenge for businesses that want to create their own cloud computing infrastructure - architectures that dynamically provision virtual server resources and can load balance between them in real time by adding and removing resources on demand. In that model, per CPU or per socket licensing is a liablity.

Usage-based pricing is needed, but even some of the large software vendors are determined to resist that, says Mattew Clark, director of IT at Qualcomm. That resistance, he says, could seriously slow down Qualcomm's efforts to create its own cloud computing infrastructure, something the company hopes to pilot sometime in 2009 and roll out in the next two years.

By then Azure and other cloud computing products will be rapidly evolving in a high stakes competition to capture the cloud computing space. So what happens if Microsoft rolls out Windows Azure as the solution to lifting Microsoft-labeled enterprise applications into the corporate cloud? Will its famous embrace and extend strategy rope in Microsoft-centric shops?

"I'm worried that we'll hit the point where [vendors say] you can only run our applications on our cloud services," says Paul Poppleton, Qualcomm's senior staff engineer and lead for the company's virtualization efforts.

Dennis Smith, first vice president in the advanced engineering group at Bank of New York Mellon, says it's a mixed bag. "Some would argue that Cisco's Data Center 3.0 strategy is somewhat proprietary but there are advantages and disadvantages to that," he says. On the one hand the competition is making all products better. On the other is the risk of vendor lock in. "We're using our lab to vet [products] and keep vendors honest," he says.

If Azure or other products get too proprietary, they won't make it into Qualcomm's cloud either. Everything is tested in the lab prior to deployment, says CIO Norm Fjeldheim, and vendor lock in won't be tolerated. "We are going after companies that are much more open. That's the criteria for us."

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