Can Microsoft beat Google at it's own Game with the Azure Appliance?

That's a question I've heard many times recently. Going to the Microsoft Worldwide Partner Conference in Washington helped me answer some of those nagging questions.

Can Microsoft ever catch Google?

One of the problems with a long time away travelling to conferences like I did in July is that there is hardly any time to really cogitate over what you learn, and even less time to write about it. There's only one person that I know that does this well is Ray Wang- which prompted another analyst to ask- Does he sleep?

Now that I'm back, I've been thinking a lot about the Azure appliance and wondering if it represents the future of all Microsoft products, not just Azure? Let me explain...

I think one of Microsoft's biggest problems is its customers.

Well, not actually its customers but the way software is deployed to its customers: on-premise.

It's shipped and customers configure it extensively for their environment. The code and configuration are co-mingled.

But before the software can be shipped it's extensively tested and throughout its life on-premise it's continuously patched. This is an incredibly slow and time consuming process because of the sheer number of configurations and variations of hardware the software needs to exist on. Millions and millions of combinations have to be tested, bugs found and fixed, and even then they don't catch them all and have to patch often. It's painful for everyone.

One of the key tenets of the SaaS and Cloud business model is multi-tenancy. The reason that analysts get so vexed about multi-tenancy being core to SaaS / Cloud is because it separates the code and configuration. As the vendor upgrades the underlying code it doesn't change the customers configuration.

The impact of this seemingly small innovation should not be be underplayed. Not only does it underpin the economics of SaaS it also underpins the agility of the vendor. With total control of hardware and software, the vendor is free to continuously deploy and test new code without interrupting client operations in a much more lightweight way than ever before.

This is why Google has been disrupting the on premise email market for the past few years with Google Apps. They use Agile development practices and iterate early and often, all on infrastructure and code they operate and maintain.

But as we know, some customers aren't happy losing control of all their data to the Cloud, and like it or not, Private Cloud is here to stay. That's why we've developed a Just Enough On Site philosophy- mixing the right amount of Cloud and on-premise IT, not forcing anyone down a prescriptive route but at it's core still retaining the benefits of the Cloud.

With on-premise appliances has Microsoft figured out a way to beat Google at its own game, by deploying in the Cloud and On-Premise but still retaining enough control of the hardware and code to enable agility?

I think they might just have a shot.

And I wonder in the future we're likely to see lots of Microsoft's products being deployed like this?

p.s. You can see Bob Muglia launch the Azure Appliance at WPC here.