In offering a cloud development and deployment platform, Microsoft has a harder task than competitors like Amazon or Salesforce.com, both of which started their businesses on the Web. With its software legacy, Microsoft has to tend to millions of developers who use its platforms to build software meant to live on premise in a corporate data center while balancing the rapidly evolving needs of more sophisticated Web applications.
James Governor, principal analyst for analyst firm RedMonk, had a more simplistic and tongue-in-cheek description of the scale-out model Azure is trying to provide for corporate applications, comparing it to "wearing your underpants on the outside of your clothes."
Developers need to find a way to expose their applications to as many users as possible but still keep the security, scalability and other factors intrinsic to corporate computing environments in mind, he said.
"This externalization and rethinking the role of IT -- it's something important that all enterprise organizations are going to have to face," he said. "How do you build applications that scale and include different constituencies? How do you extend identities on the Web?"
Pitney Bowes Management Services, a subsidiary of Pitney Bowes that outsources business services such as mailing, communications and shipping to Fortune 1000 companies, is one company that is facing this problem. Pitney Bowes Management Services is working with Microsoft to test a version of its dMail digital mail conversion service running on Azure.
Terry Doeberl, director of business development for Pitney Bowes Management Services, said one benefit to a Web-based development model for applications is that it will make applications independent of the desktop operating systems, which he called "the bane of many companies' existences" because of how difficult it can be to install new applications across desktop PCs.
As described by Microsoft, Azure abstracts the application from the OS using virtualization technology, which means the two can act independently of each other.
Doeberl said the separation between the application and the OS also simplifies the maintenance of support of individual desktop users while making the applications more accessible from mobile devices.