Amazon.com (Nasdaq: AMZN ) is the king of cloud computing. Two very smart guys just said so: Bill Gurley of Benchmark Capital and Ray Ozzie of Microsoft (Nasdaq: MSFT ) .
Gurley I met live, at his office overlooking Stanford University, during an "innovation tour" of Silicon Valley with my Rule Breakers teammates. He had just bought shares of Amazon, explaining that the retailer can be a low-cost leader in cloud computing services.
Ozzie, Mr. Softy's chief software architect, is less a fan than an admiring rival. On Monday, he said that "all of us are going to be standing on [Amazon's] shoulders" in introducing Windows Azure, a cloud computing environment that CEO Steve Ballmer foreshadowed earlier this month.
The technical idea is intriguing. Windows Azure runs applications and resembles Amazon's Elastic Compute Cloud in that it's a massive cluster of processing horsepower made available via the Web. A "Fabric Controller" governs the environment -- parsing storage and CPU cycles, among other things -- in a manner that should seem familiar to those who follow VMware (NYSE: VMW ) .
But, even if it sounds like it, the Fabric Controller isn't Hyper-V, the single-server virtualization technology that competes with ESXi, a free product from VMware. The Fabric Controller will instead work on a massive scale, coordinating the cloud like Google's (Nasdaq: GOOG ) algorithm coordinates a global network of servers to search queries. Or how Akamai's (Nasdaq: AKAM ) algorithms deconstruct and then reassemble data to deliver it fast over the Web.
We're not likely to know all the details behind Windows Azure for weeks or even months. The service is still in the planning stage. And yet I sense the potential for a winner here. Why? It's disruptive technology.
Think about it. The twin promises of cloud computing are (a) cost savings and (b) platform freedom. Windows Azure could fulfill both while preserving the hard work developers have put into creating software for Windows, SQL Server, and other Microsoft technologies.
Call it a strategy for platform preservation. Or, if you're a cynic, a red herring. But whatever your pleasure, don't call it dumb. Any strategy that keeps existing customers paying is a good one -- especially in troubled times like these.
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