A follow up from last month’s post: Cloudy in Seattle. Azure has released their business model, pricing and official release date. Mid-November is still the official word for the commercial release.

Check: Azure Services Overview Pricing & Licensing Overview

Official Press Release: Microsoft Unveils Windows Azure Platform Business Model, Bringing New Revenue Opportunities to Partners Worldwide

TechCrunch: Microsoft’s Azure Gets A Business Model And An Official Release Date

Additional Azure Resources:
Steve Marx on Azure for Developers: Windows Azure: Cloud Computing in Application Services

Microsoft Channel 9 from pdc2008: pdc2008 Azure posts

Finally getting back to Cloudforce Seattle and the tons of info learned last week. The message was clearly that Salesforce.com is not just applications. Cloudforce Seattle was all about the platform moving to the cloud. I have a notion that there will be several “clouds” in the future. Clearly, Salesforce.com aims to be the enterprise cloud.

Taking an educated guess, but if I was employed by Salesforce.com I would see the cloud(s) through the following lens:

  • Amazon AWS: Raw horsepower for the cloud. BTW, a partner.
  • Google Apps: Powering the desktop cloud. BTW, a partner.
  • Windows Azure: Microsoft Redux. Not serious for the enterprise. Find every hole and angle to exploit.
  • Facebook: Pure social play. Not a competitor until they are a revenue threat.
  • IBM & everyone else: Legacy vertical stacks. Too many holes to exploit. Focus on Salesforce.com advantage for each opportunity.

The Cloud Model will adhere to 3 themes: Multi-tenant, pay-as-you-go and elastic. The cloud is multi-tenant. Period. That is the only way to scale and offer the elasticity that the model requires. Without multi-tenant, it is merely remote hosting of previous application server provider (ASP) models. Pay-as-you-go is an interesting concept. Gone are the days of large outlays of capital and then turn-and-burn for the ROI. The Cloud allows for modest investment upfront. You can try a service easily. The main objection has been and will be “lock-in”. Prospects do not like the notion that you will host and somehow own their data. The industry media has not helped this notion. The elasticity is the value in the cloud for both parties. The relative cost of adding more capacity to the customer is cheap and the price the customer pays for added capacity is as well. Make not mistake though, the old days of huge margin for enterprise software providers is long gone. Smaller Cloud providers will find themselves up against increased barriers to entry.

The business value proposition will be around 3 themes as well: No capital expense, modest operating expense and scales with your business. No capital expense has been, is and will be a huge selling point. Companies finance departments may not understand this concept. Capital budgets are different from operating budgets. How much operating budget is based on usage and a lot of customers will have difficulty with this pay-as-you-go concept. They want to plan usage and that in the past has been done on a capital outlay. Cloud customers will need to get better at capacity planning their cloud usage. Salesforce.com and other cloud providers will need to spend the time to educate that usage is the new pricing.

This does next to zero for the sales cycle though. It is still as long and laborious. I speak from experience.

Immediately post-Cloudforce Seattle, I had identified 5 highlights:

  • Visual Force, Model–view–controller (MVC) framework for custom user interfaces
  • Mobile Lite, Free (for most) Salesforce.com mobile application
  • Force.com Sites and Free Edition
  • Integrated Content Library
  • Genius, Think iTunes Genius for Salesforce collaboration

Visual Force provides an MVC framework for custom user interfaces as a service. MVC (Model, view, controller) is a standard framework for development. Since most user interface development is done through this type of framework, it is an advantage. Less re-tooling for development staff, less hurdles to clear from IT. The MVC framework carries over to Force.com Sites and will allow for a rich visual experience. Smart move.

Mobile Lite and the Mobile product has a mantra: “Write once, run anywhere” to iPhone, Blackberry and Windows Mobile. I have not been able to look into this further, but I know first-hand the difficulties of going cross-platform in the mobile space. “It ain’t easy.” Mobile Lite is a free for most versions of Salesforce.com and provides a lot of bang for Sales. It can take call logs from the phone and update Salesforce. What Sales would not want to have to make sure that his or her activity was logged? The mobile development angle on Force.com is intriguing and I will dive into that deeper.

Force.com Site and Free Edition were the stars of the event. If there was one point they wanted you to leave with it was Force.com Sites. From the impressive Starbucks/Appirio demo to the equally impressive GameCraze demo site by EDL Consulting, Salesforce.com wants to provide the world with the capability of customer facing systems on the same platform. Free Edition is a call to developers to an application vendors to test the waters of the enterprise cloud. The barrier to entry cannot get much lower than free. I would expect to see some interesting startups come from this.

The Integrated Content Library was just plain cool. It allows tagging, ratings, comments and search capabilities of market-facing content. Sales no longer needs to search for the best deck through hundreds of e-mail threads. A user can then assemble a custom deck for the opportunity. The real coolness is in the tracking of the sent content to the prospect. Sales can generate a custom e-mail through Salesforce.com to include a link to the newly created custom content. Tracking based in the e-mail and link will tell Sales, if the email and link have been opened. For Sales, this is pure gold.

Additionally there is a Genius feature that can best be described as iTunes Genius for Salesforce.com. It allows Sales to find experts within the company who have closed similar deals through matching criteria. Deal size, product or owner you name it. To work well, Sales must be disciplined which is difficult to at best. It will be interesting to see what customers Salesforce.com offers as “Super Geniuses”.

There has been a lot of press about this event being in Microsoft and Amazon’s backyard. This tour did not start and will not end in Seattle. Seattle was chosen for effect, no doubt. Salesforce.com means to be the enterprise cloud. Period. If I am right, hire me. If I am wrong, then I will be down to one reader — which will still not be my wife.

Happy Monday.

Very interesting presentations on cloud computing at Seattle Tech Startups tonight.

Jeff Lawson of Twilio gave an en depth presentation on how his company is levering AWS, Rackspace and other providers to bring telephony into the cloud. I was very impressed with their architecture. Honestly, it is better and more scalable than many enterprise architectures. I say this with 15+ years in the enterprise space. Twilio has figured out how to deliver a very robust enterprise class system on Amazon AWS. If others are able to replicate the Twilio model, the cloud will thrive in the enterprise. He offered some insights on cloud advantages. First, the cloud gives you the opportunity to determine the optimal cost performance trade off. Second, the cloud is great for load testing. Third, the cloud is great for the often overlooked failure testing. Given that services can die in the cloud, the uncertainties force better, more redundant design. Twilio is very sensitive to uptime since they are a consumer and provider of cloud services. Jeff ended his presentation with a very funny send up of the most commonly asked questions on the STS forum. Keep your eye on Twilio.

Steve Marx from the Windows Azure team followed. Personally, I have only thought of Azure as a pure cloud application type offering, but in reality Windows Azure will play in the commodity/utility space of the cloud as well in the higher value services of cloud applications. Windows Azure will run a forked version of Windows 2008 Server that has been optimized for the Microsoft virtualization stack and bootup time. Aside from running Windows Server 2008, Azure will be a fairly open system allowing other databases and programming languages. MySQL will be supported as well as other applications that do not require administrative access to the server according to Steve. Impressively, Windows Azure will offer easy scalability and rollback features baked into the “fabric” of the offering. Ease of use could be a compelling point for customers. Look for the Windows Azure SLA and business pricing in November of this year. Steve demonstrated Windows Azure by setting up a web service that used Twilio. Nice touch.

When I leave an event like this and my mind in spinning with the possibilities, it was worthwhile. Tonight was no exception.

Amazon, Microsoft improve their cloud computing game

Interesting read on AWS and Azure offerings. No surprise that Microsoft is offering SQL Server. One thought though is how many less sophisticated organizations run much of their business on Excel or Access. Is this really going to attract those customers?

The AWS pricing is so attractive that I will bet many organizations will bite. It is even tempting for a start up. Hmm…

See disclosure below.