Cloud Services

Microsoft: A Company of Many Clouds

DUBLIN -- Management World 2012 -- Determining where Microsoft Corp. (Nasdaq: MSFT) plays in the cloud isn't hard -- it's everywhere.

Best known generally for its consumer applications ("To the cloud!" as they say), Microsoft also offers the most popular cloud applications for enterprises and SMBs in Office 365 and hosted Exchange server, delivered by telecom cloud providers, among others.

But increasingly, the software giant is more interested in working with innovators who are developing higher-value apps, including those aimed at specific verticals, according to Phyllis Harris, Microsoft's GM of worldwide communications and media. In some instances, telecom cloud providers can deliver those vertical apps to their cloud users while in other cases, they will be consumers of cloud-based apps.

For example, Microsoft and Tribold announced this week that the latter's Enterprise Product Management (EPM) software, which was developed for communications service providers, will be available as a cloud-based service via Microsoft's Windows Azure. The Tribold EPM can be used to develop a centralized product catalog that simplifies the thousands of product codes many service providers use or to automate the configuration/price quoting/order management process. (See Tribold Teams With Microsoft on SP Cloud.)

Microsoft also announced that Mexican cable operator Cablemás is using Exchange Online to connect 2,200 of its remote workers. (See Microsoft Powers Mexican Cable Cloud.)

"We see a big opportunity to syndicate services -- ours and others -- to help [service providers] monetize their networks," Harris said. "Billing offerings, end-to-end service management -- there are many areas in which we think we can help."

For other industry verticals, Microsoft is developing expertise that takes into account the specific needs and regulatory requirements of multiple industries "to connect a much broader marketplace," including both business and consumer markets, Harris said. She believes Microsoft is in a good position to connect service providers to a broader ecosystem of potential partners to help differentiate their cloud services.

Microsoft was involved in a service broker Catalyst, championed by AT&T Inc. (NYSE: T) and others, which used the Microsoft Azure platform to enable the integration of multiple services across many clouds. The idea is to enable apps management across clouds so multiple capabilities or services can be tied together.

The partnership connections may be the primary way cloud providers use Microsoft to differentiate, given the fact that Office 365 and hosted Exchange are virtually ubiquitous cloud offers. But Harris sees cloud as such a massive opportunity, especially as more devices get connected and machine-to-machine takes off, that there is little need for exclusivity on the basics.

There will be a need for standards, however, and Microsoft is engaged in dialog with the service providers, and also major equipment vendors, to determine what those need to be, Harris said. The expectation is for the TM Forum and Frameworx to produce a reference architecture and for the industry and possibly other groups to define APIs and other essential elements.

— Carol Wilson, Chief Editor, Events, Light Reading

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