A Platform for the Next Technology Revolution
Published: October 28, 2008
During the past decade, a dramatic transformation in the world of information technology has been taking shape. It’s a transformation that will change the way we experience the world and share our experiences with others. It’s a transformation in which the barriers between technologies will fall away so we can connect to people and information no matter where we are. It’s a transformation where new innovations will shorten the path from inspiration to accomplishment.
Many of the components of this transformation are already in place. Some have received a great deal of attention. “Cloud computing” that connects people to vast amounts of storage and computing power in massive datacenters is one example. Social networking sites that have changed the way people connect with family and friends is another.
Other components are so much a part of the inevitable march of progress that we take them for granted as soon as we start to use them: cell phones that double as digital cameras, large flat-screen PC monitors and HD TV screens, and hands-free digital car entertainment and navigation systems, to name just a few.
What’s missing is the ability to connect these components in a seamless continuum of information, communication, and computing that isn’t bounded by device or location. Today, some things that our intuition says should be simple still remain difficult, if not impossible. Why can’t we easily access the documents we create at work on our home PCs? Why isn’t all of the information that customers share with us available instantly in a single application? Why can’t we create calendars that automatically merge our schedules at work and home?
This week at the Professional Developers Conference (PDC) in Los Angeles, we shared news with software developers about a new set of platform technologies that will help transcend these limits. I wanted to share my thoughts about the impact that these technologies will have as developers begin to use them to create a new generation of experiences that extend uninterrupted from the desktop to the mobile phone, media player, car, and beyond—to places where we never thought information and communications would be available to us.
A New Platform for Cloud Computing
At PDC, we announced the availability of an early preview release of a new technology called Windows Azure. Windows Azure will enable developers to build applications that extend from the cloud to the enterprise datacenter and span the PC, the Web, and the mobile phone. For the first time, we shared pre-beta code for Windows 7 and for Windows Server 2008 R2. Windows 7, which is the next version of the Windows desktop operating system, will take advantage of software and hardware advances to help eliminate the boundaries between information, people, and devices.
We also previewed Office Web applications, which are light-weight versions of Word, Excel, PowerPoint, and OneNote that are designed to be accessed through a browser. Office Web applications will be part of the next version of Office and will enable people to view, edit, and share information and collaborate on documents on the desktop, the phone, and in a Web browser in a way that is consistent and familiar.
Windows Azure is part of the Azure Services Platform, a comprehensive set of storage, computing, and networking infrastructure services that reside in Microsoft’s network of datacenters. Using the Azure Services Platform, developers will be able to build applications that run in the cloud and extend existing applications to take advantage of cloud-based capabilities. The Azure Services Platform provides the foundation for business and consumer applications that deliver a consistent way for people to store and share information easily and securely in the cloud, and access it on any device from any location.
Windows Azure is not software that companies will run on their own servers. It’s something new: a service that runs in Microsoft’s growing network of datacenters and provides the platform that helps companies respond to the realities of today’s business environment, and tomorrow’s. Windows Azure technologies are already finding their way into products such as Windows Server 2008 and System Center Virtual Machine Manager, enabling organizations and Microsoft partners to create their own cloud infrastructure.
Windows Azure will enable organizations to respond to realities such as the need to use the Web to provide customers with comprehensive information and to interact with an audience that has the potential to expand exponentially overnight; to integrate operations with partners — and sometimes even competitors — to meet customer needs; to add new capabilities quickly to respond to new opportunities; and to enable employees to work efficiently and effectively no matter where they are. These realities apply not just to businesses, but to organizations of all kinds: schools, governments, community groups, and more.
Traditional approaches to building technology infrastructure and delivering computing capabilities make it difficult and expensive to adjust to these realities. You need systems with enough capacity to meet the highest possible demand—capacity that includes servers and buildings to house them, the power to run them, and the people to manage them. You have to spread that capacity across locations so there’s a backup if one part fails. You have to solve issues like access for different types of users and compliance with tax regulations in all countries where your customers reside.
Designed specifically to meet the global scale that today’s organizations require, the Azure Services Platform will provide fundamentally new ways to deploy services and capabilities. It gives businesses the option to take advantage of the capacity available in the cloud as it is needed, reducing the need to make large upfront investments in infrastructure simply to be ready when demand spikes. It will enable developers to create applications that run in the cloud and provide the features, information, and interactivity that employees, partners, and customers expect — no matter how many of them there are, where they are in the world, or what device they have at hand.
Software Plus Services and the Power of Choice
The Azure Services Platform reflects our belief that choice is critical for developers, companies, and consumers. It is also based on our belief that the key to delivering value today and in the future lies in combining the best aspects of software running on PCs, servers, and devices with the best aspects of services running on the Web — an approach we call “software plus services.”
Our software plus services approach lets people take full advantage of the incredible power of today’s devices. While there are undeniable benefits to being able to tap into the wealth of information and services that can be accessed over the Web through a browser, the interactive experiences that people expect on their PC, mobile phone, and media player depend on sophisticated software running on powerful processors.
The richness of these experiences will only increase as multicore processors expand the computing capabilities of our devices and new programming languages open the door to a new generation of applications that let us use more natural ways to interact with digital technology such as voice, touch, and gestures.
Software plus services also recognizes that for most companies, the ideal way to build IT infrastructure is to find the right balance of applications that are run and managed within the organization and applications that are run and managed in the cloud.
This balance varies by company. A financial services company may choose to maintain customer records within its own datacenter to provide the extra layers of protection that it feels are needed to safeguard the privacy of personal information. It may outsource IT systems that provide basic capabilities such as e-mail.
This balance will change over time within an organization, as well. A company may run its own online transaction system most of the year, but outsource for added capacity to meet extra demand during the holiday season. With software plus services, an organization can move applications back and forth between its own servers and the cloud quickly and smoothly.
Today, companies around the world are implementing Microsoft technologies to take advantage of the best combination of on-premise software and cloud-based services. Using Microsoft Online Services, businesses including Coca-Cola Enterprises, Blockbuster, and Energizer access and manage Microsoft Exchange, SharePoint, Office Communications Server, and Live Meeting over the Web through a single, secure infrastructure. In addition, 1 million people rely on Office Live Workspace for sharing and collaborating with friends, family, and colleagues.
Expanding the Definition of Personal Computing
Ultimately, the reason to create a cloud services platform is to continue to enhance the value that computing delivers, whether it’s by improving productivity, making it easier to communicate with colleagues, or simplifying the way we access information and respond to changing business conditions.
In the world of software plus services and cloud computing, this means extending the definition of personal computing beyond the PC to include the Web and an ever-growing array of devices. Our goal is to make the combination of PCs, mobile devices, and the Web something that is significantly more than the sum of its parts.
The starting point is to recognize the unique value of each part. The value of the PC lies in its computing power, its storage capacity, and its ability to help us be more productive and create and consume rich and complex documents and content.
For the Web, it’s the ability to bring together people, information, and services so we can connect, communicate, share, and transact with anyone, anywhere, at any time.
With the mobile phone and other devices, it’s the ability to take action spontaneously — to make a call, take a picture, or send a text message in the flow of our activities.
Through Live Mesh — a service from Microsoft that we announced earlier this year and about which we shared new information week — we’re beginning to bridge the PC, phone, and Web and create this next generation of connected experiences. Built on the Azure Services Platform, Live Mesh enables you to use programs and information stored on your work computer from your home PC, and vice versa. With Live Mesh, you can share folders and ensure that the information is automatically synchronized across your devices.
Live Mesh hints at how our lives will be transformed as the barriers between devices disappear and the option to connect instantly to people, devices, programs, and information becomes a reality.
We’re not quite there yet. Today, the Azure Services Platform is available only as a limited technology preview release. But as developers begin to combine the capabilities of this new platform with the amazing ongoing hardware and software innovations that we are seeing from companies across the industry, it will bring us significantly closer to the time when information, communication, and computing flows along with us seamlessly as we move through our day-to-day activities.
You can learn more about these technologies and the progress we are making by visiting the Microsoft Software + Services Web site.
I look forward to sharing more information with you about these new technologies in the near future.