Amazon 'free' cloud beats Microsoft at its own game

No-cost test more attractive than Open365 to developers, developers, developers, developers

Amazon is taking a clip out of Microsoft's video guidebook to promote both the use of cloud computing and its EC2 PAAS among both ISVs and corporate developers.

Last week Amazon announced it would offer a year of free service to new customers wanting to play with on-demand computing at no cost.

The main audience for the offer appears to be corporate developers and test-dev staffers, who could use the 750 hours of free Linux VM use to experiment with on-demand computing without having to get special budget approval.

The offer would also appeal to ISVs who don't qualify for partnership deals, and who can't afford to build their own SAAS platform to make their products available online.

Either way, Amazon is going after the core of what gave Microsoft the win over Apple, IBM, Novell, Linux and everyone else for the last 20 years -- its ability to get developers to build apps for its platform, which brought in the end users.

Remember the " Steve Ballmer Going Crazy" monkeyboy video? Goofy as Ballmer is, he successfully drilled into the heads of Microsofties that it was more important to attract applications to run on Windows than to attract end users directly.

Do it badly and you're Apple circa 1996. Do it well and you're Apple circa 2010.

Microsoft, on the other hand, is going after end users directly with Office365 -- an online version of its Office and other productivity apps aimed at Google and Zoho, but missing.

That's great for attracting end-user SAAS customers, small and even mid-sized businesses that don't want to buy and maintain Microsoft apps on every user's PC if they can avoid it.

SMBs are already moving a lot faster into SAAS and the cloud than larger companies.

It doesn't address the larger problem of how to win as a platform provider in the cloud market -- or how to get the masses of companies unstuck from their should-I-or-shouldn't-I analysis paralysis.

The free offer isn't enough to push a CIO wrestling with whether to make a cloud decision based on ROI or potential business-benefits toward Amazon.

It is enough to get the test-dev people playing with EC2, get them familiar with it, and put EC2 on the short list of options they offer the CIO when they're asked for recommendations of the most cost-effective cloud options.

It's also enough to attract more pilot tests, short-term projects and efforts to compensate for spikes in demand for capacity, crowding more apps onto EC2 and making it more likely they'll come back for their next project, or take advantage of the original work by keeping their apps on EC2 long-term for end users who don't care (and often don't know) where the app is running.

I've seen that picture somewhere before.

Kevin Fogarty writes about enterprise IT for ITworld. Follow him on Twitter @KevinFogarty.

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