Monday, December 20, 2010

Microsoft's "All In" Journey "To The Cloud", Full Of Hot Air & All Out Of Gas OR Azure Blue Skies Ahead?

Kevin Murphy (a former CTO and now my colleague in an EMC/Cisco cloud computing joint venture) and I were discussing the so-called Cloud Computing "To The Cloud" campaign by Microsoft, just a few days ago.
Today I read an article by Jeff Kaplan, one of my fellow contributors to the very respected INTERNET EVOLUTION media site. Jeff's piece was titled: "What Microsoft's 'To the Cloud' Ads Really Promote".
He is right that the definition of Cloud can still be considered somewhat fluid. But, quite frankly, among actual cloud buyers and vendors, there is enough general understanding and agreement of it, that Microsoft's ads cannot use a vast, errrr, umbrella definition, where everything can be stuck with the Cloud tag.
I ask: If McDonald's burgers can be promoted by a coupon in an iPhone app, is suddenly Hamburger the latest "solution" going "to the cloud"?
I agree with Jeff about how various consumer-driven technology companies' (like Amazon, Apple) great success with cloud based solutions has been a huge driver for the corporate acceptance of the concept. Nothing in these Microsoft ads makes a Cloud Computing industry or corporate buyer think of Azure, their cloud platform offering, which I see having immense potential. So, one assumes the target audience for the ads is consumers.
I think Jeff gives too much credit to Microsoft, thanking them for giving everyday meaning to users to make cloud a tangible benefit providing service. But, that is counter to the already stated fact that Apple, Amazon, FaceBook, etc. were what even Salesforce's go-to-market approach was driven by. So, in that case, Microsoft is offering too little, too late for the consumer cloud services business.
Almost nothing I see in the Microsoft cloud ads shows anything that is a specific service or feature or offering or value added solution from Microsoft. Or something they are not already familiar with. That is why I think Microsoft is doing itself a great disservice.
But, that is typical of Microsoft. When you don't understand something well enough, try to confuse everyone else. Maybe it is not intentional in the case of cloud. At least Microsoft did not completely miss the boat and then try to jump on board trying to become skipper of the cloud ship, like Larry Elison of Oracle.
Even AT&T's decade-old ads of "putting your kid to bed from a world away...." and "the company that will bring it to you, AT&T..." clearly showed the vision, and their attempt to stake a claim in the then-budding network based services future. They were touchy feely, but showed specific use-cases in a not-so-distant future. And they showed how the telecom network (a primary business of AT&T at that time) would be the carrier of such services. Not that I would trust AT&T (that shows Call Failed on my iPhone far too many time, even in areas showing full signal strength!).
Microsoft's ads for Cloud are not as lame as the Windows 7 ads I could not stand, where a dweeb (I hope that is not a dirty word) walks around the house describing things in Windows 7 that were "his idea" — yet were doable in Macs and even Windows PCs for years. But they neither serve the business audience with a clear compelling story, nor show anything that consumers can't already do.
So, what do I make of these Microsoft ads? Even while I am working at a cloud computing vendor focusing on private cloud, I feel Microsoft has huge potential to be a strong force in Cloud Computing with its Azure platform. But, it seems for now they have not completely figured out what to do, and how to do it. In the meantime, the poor marketing folks likely are under pressure to do something, air something, that shows Microsoft is committed to the cloud. Sorry guys, hate the ads, but, I've been through similar situations as you probably are in.
Even as a frequent Windows critic, I have to say the company is getting much better. Windows 7 is the first Windows OS I purchased with my own money even to run on my VMware Fusion and Parallels emulators as virtual machines rather than XP that I already had. While I could not stop laughing at the Zune, I marvel at how amazing Xbox is as a platform -- and how far behind Microsoft current consumer gadgetry king Apple is on the TV front.
I can curse at PowerPoint but I bought and love having the latest versions of Office on my Macs and Windows machines. If Apple ever thinks it can make a real play for the enterprise, all Microsoft has to do is pull the plug on Office for Mac. And, much that I love my MacBook Pros, Macs and OS X, the first thing I insisted on deploying in my CIO role was Microsoft's SharePoint --- when even the PC using techies reporting to me did not think it was a good platform. It really goes to show that Microsoft is starting to get it, and hence will be a strong competitor to any current leader. Just give it two or three years.
But here is the downside that I think Microsoft needs to be aware of. In typical fashion like many big companies with shallow understanding of disruptive market forces but deep pockets, their ads annoy those who know what Cloud is about, confuse those who don't know what Cloud is, and just enrich TV channels and an ad agency — with touchy-feely ads which mean nothing, today, or in the future.
That is just In My Humble Opinion.

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