November 12, 2010, 9:57 AM — Microsoft doesn't want to admit it, but a Gartner analyst says the vendor's decision to offer Windows Server instances in the Azure cloud is opening a new competitive front against partner hosting companies.
Before 2010 is over, Microsoft will update Windows Azure with the ability to run Windows Server 2008 R2 instances in the Microsoft cloud service. The move could blur the lines between platform-as-a-service (PaaS) clouds like Azure, which provide abstracted tools to application developers, and infrastructure-as-a-service (IaaS) clouds such as Amazon's EC2, which provide raw access to compute and storage capacity.
This move also improves Microsoft's competitive stance against VMware, which is teaming with hosting companies to offer PaaS developer tools and VMware-based infrastructure clouds.
Microsoft has, to some extent, downplayed the new capabilities, saying the cloud-based Windows Server - which goes under the name Windows Azure Virtual Machine Role - is primarily an on-ramp to port some applications to the Azure cloud.
"What they really want is people using Azure," MacDonald says. At the same time, VM Role "is a form of infrastructure-as-a-service," he continues. "The reason Microsoft is being so vague is they really don't want to upset their ecosystem partners, all the hosters out there in the world making good money hosting Windows workloads. Microsoft doesn't really want to emphasize that it is competing against them."