At last year’s Microsoft Worldwide Partner Conference (WPC) I was one of many in the audience that gasped when Kevin Turner, Microsoft’s COO, said ‘we want to own the cloud’.
I thought ‘Sh@@ that’s a bold stance’. He followed that with a question to the already-baited audience: ‘well if we don’t then who will?’.
I think his fellow executives at Microsoft were a little nervous with that position initially but Kevin went for it in his inimitable style. He made the statement at a time when Microsoft could not be doing more to support open source and to partner with other industry players like Red Hat.
The value of leadership
On reflection I understand where Kevin and Microsoft are coming from. I don’t think he was being literal. What he was really saying is that Microsoft want to be the world’s dominant cloud provider, bar none.
Of course there is space for others but having a clear leader also does a lot to shape our IT industry and the businesses that depend upon it. A frontrunner focuses and enriches the ecosystem. In that context, it’s reasonable to say that Microsoft already owns the corporate directory, the corporate mail system and the corporate desktop.
If you want to imagine a world where there isn’t a clear leader, imagine if businesses still had a mix of directories (Novell, Microsoft, Sun, OpenLDAP etc.) with no clear leader. Think what that does for enterprise identity, federation, security, single sign-on, certificates and associated management tools.
Would the ecosystem of tools to support global identity and security methods be weakened if the game was more competitive? Yes, most probably.
Highest common multiplier or lowest common denominator?
Think about a world where Exchange and Office 365 was not the dominant mail platform. Think about how many tools and applications support that ecosystem: such as archiving, mail hygiene, fax2mail and DLP. Again I think the eco-system is weaker when third parties develop tools for too many systems. You end up with lowest common denominator capabilities.
The same goes for enterprise desktop operating systems. Think of a large enterprise with an equal spread of Windows, MACs and Ubuntu desktops. Could this mixed model support the kind of mature lifecycle management tools we have today? Again, a clear winner makes everyone successful.
This has been the crutch for cloud orchestration and abstraction layer tool makers to date. They simply struggle to keep pace with native APIs from cloud providers like Microsoft Azure and Amazon AWS.
I believe Microsoft will emerge as the public cloud frontrunner because of their ability to build tightly-integrated hybrid technologies and the advantage they have already in owning key enterprise technologies like the directory and desktop.
If this happens, it will breed a healthier ecosystem of tools and technologies. Having competition is always healthy and we all need that but it’s also good for the industry and the businesses it supports to see a leader emerge along with a partner ecosystem building great software, services and solutions that make the whole thing sizzle.