Sunday, September 27, 2009

If Sauron was the Microsoft Cloud Strategist

Back in March 2008, I wrote a post which hypothesised that a company, such as Microsoft, could conceivably create a cloud environment that meshes together many ISPs / ISVs and end consumers into a "proprietary" yet "open" cloud marketplace and consequently supplant the neutrality of the web.

This is only a hypothesis and the strategy would have to be straight out of the "Art of War" and attempt to misdirect all parties whilst the ground work is laid. Now, I have no idea what Microsoft is planning but let's pretend that Sauron was running their cloud strategy.

In such circumstances, you could reasonably expect an attack on internet freedom based upon the following actions :-

Development of the Ecosystem (from my Nov'08 post)

    When the Azure services platform is launched, we will see the creation of an ecosystem based upon the following concepts:-

    1. build and release applications to Microsoft's own cloud environment providing Azure and the Azure Services.
    2. build and release applications to a number of different ISPs providing Azure and specific Azure Services (i.e. SQL, .Net and Sharepoint services).
    3. purchase server versions of Azure and specific Azure services for your own infrastructure.
    4. buy a ready made scaleable "Azure" container cloud for all those large data centre needs of yours.

    Since the common component in all of this will be the Azure platform itself, then migration between all these options will be easy as pie through the Windows Azure Fabric Controller

Growth of the Ecosystem

The Azure platform will benefit from componentisation effects rapidly increasing the development speed of applications. Given the large pre-installed base of .NET developers, these effects would encourage rapid adoption especially as a marketplace of providers exists with portability between them (overcoming one of the adoption concerns). However, MSFT will purposefully retain specific elements of the Azure Services (those with strong network effects through data & meta data - user profiles etc). This will create accusations of lock-in.

To combat this, the entire services will be based upon open standards (for the data but not the meta data) and support will be given to an open source equivalent of the Azure platform (i.e mono) . The argument will be presented strongly that the Azure market is open, based upon open standards with a fledgling open source alternative. Hence, into this mix will be launched :-

  1. A wide variety of ISV applications running on the Azure Platform.
  2. A strong message of openness, portability and support for open standards (particularly for the reasons of interoperability)
  3. A fledgling open source equivalent.

In order to achieve the above and to allow for the development of the future strategy, the office suite of tools must be based upon open standards. Both Mr. Edward's & I share concerns in this space.


With the growth of the Azure marketplace and applications built in this platform, a range of communication protocols will be introduced to enhance productivity in both the office platform (which will increasingly be tied into the network effect aspects of Azure) and Silverlight (which will be introduced to every device to create a rich interface). Whilst the protocols will be open, many of the benefits will only come into effect through aggregated & meta data (i.e. within the confines of the Azure market). The purpose of this approach, is to reduce the importance of the browser as a neutral interface to the web and to start the process of undermining the W3C technologies.

The net effect

The overall effect of this approach would be to create the illusion of an open marketplace on Azure which is rapidly adopted because of the componentisation effects created and pre-existing skills base. Into this marketplace will be provided beneficial protocols for communication which are again "open". Despite its popularity, no accusation of monopoly can be levelled because users are free to choose providers and a fledgling open source equivalent exists.

However, the reality would be to create a market that has surrendered technological direction to one vendor with new protocols designed to undermine the W3C. All participants (whether ISPs, ISVs, consumer or manufacturers) will find themselves dependent upon the one vendor because of the strong network effects created through data (including aggregated and meta data effects).

Following such a strategy, then it could be Game, Set and Match to MSFT for the next twenty years and the open source movement will find itself crushed by this juggernaut. Furthermore, companies such as Google, that depend upon the neutrality of the interface to the web will find themselves seriously disadvantaged.

Now, I'm not saying this is going to happen but I have my own personal views. I warned about the dangers of a proprietary play in this space back in 2007 and the importance of open source in protecting our freedoms. I'm mentioning this again because I keep on hearing people say that "open source has won".

The problem is that we might be fighting the wrong fight, and the battle for middle earth has already begun.