Microsoft promises more Azure disclosure to partners

Faster, more complete Windows Azure roadmaps are promised to committed Microsoft partners.

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LOS ANGELES -- Microsoft partners interested in pursuing Azure cloud opportunities were promised more transparency on Azure services plans this week.

Committed partners should see more detailed roadmaps for planned Azure features and premium services in “the weeks and months to come,” said Devesh Satyavolu, group product manager for Windows Azure partner marketing.

Many attendees of the Microsoft Worldwide Partner Conference 2011 want more timely updates on Azure plans. As Microsoft has built out its aggressive Platform-as-a-Service project, much has remained shrouded in secrecy. This is not productive if the company really wants developers and other partners to jump aboard.

Satyavolu acknowledged that issue. “What I hear consistently is we have not done a great job sharing our roadmap.” He pledged that partners will get (first under NDA) a roadmap of intended new features and premium Azure services every six months, to be refreshed at the end of that period.

Such planned premium services will include Identity as a Service, which, for Azure users, means using Active Directories hosted by Microsoft and (possibly) synced with end user domain directories. That could ease concerns for companies wanting to federate services between on-premises, private networks and the public Azure cloud. That’s a big, scary move for an IT shop to take, though.

One WPC attendee said customers resist the notion of co-mingling Active Directories that run on-premises and federating that information onto the cloud.

Satyavolu acknowledged that as well. “Yes. There has absolutely been pushback. We need to think of Identity as a Service, and by that I mean Active Directory—having the ability to extend credentials and identity in the public cloud.”

Partners also want to know when Azure will obtain critical security certifications. Such certifications could ease customer concerns over deploying their applications and data on Azure.

Microsoft is working on ISO 27001, SAS 70 and FISMA certifications for Azure now.

“There are two aspects to that work,” Satyavolu said. “There’s the technology work—making changes to the platform and in how storage is replicated, and then there’s the process to get the certification. That process takes three to seven months. We’ve completed a lot of the engineering work for some of these certifications and we’ll talk about the roadmap in a few months.”

In response to a question about how Azure will handle Windows Phone development, Satyavolu said Microsoft is trying to rationalize development experience across devices. “We are integrating the SDKs [software development kits] more, so instead of having multiple accelerators, one for the phone [and] one for social gamers, the experience will be consistent. We have to figure out how we expand the notion of a service to the SDK world.”

Partners are likely to be more interested in how Microsoft rationalizes Azure’s fees and delivery to mobile in a way that makes it attractive to develop apps.

Microsoft  will spill more on these topics at its BUILD Conference (formerly the Professional Developers Conference) in September and could conceivably provide more information after next week’s Microsoft global sales meeting where the field troops get their marching orders for the upcoming fiscal year.

Azure is clearly top of mind for many WPC attendees. Sessions on the systems integrator and Azure were sold out.

It was clear from the show’s content that Microsoft wants partners to believe that customers are ready for cloud deployment and that Microsoft now has the goods to satisfy that demand. But there remains skepticism that there is a lot more meat to Microsoft’s “all-in the cloud” message than there was last year.

Greg Stanalajczo, president of Trillium Technologies Inc., of Royal Oak, Mich., said his company’s decision to participate in intense “Operation Azure” training was a good way to get ready for this new world. 

Better and earlier disclosure of Azure's technical roadmap is also key, he agreed. "It is very important  to get direct, detailed real information about Azure and the planned roadmap in order to keep our technical staff engaged, excited and in front of the curve," he said.

Microsoft to partners:  We’re in this together

While many at the show have a vested interest in believing Microsoft’s partner-friendly message, many attendees privately expressed their continuing concern that the real beneficiary of all of this infrastructure work will be Microsoft, not its partners.

But Microsoft execs insisted the whole ecosystem—vendor and partners—are in this battle together as more customers test out and embrace the pay-as-you-go rental cloud model versus big-bang technology to run on-premises.

 “Our licensing model is changing. We sell Windows Server in a particular way [and] we don’t sell Windows Azure that way,” said Prashant Ketkar, director of product marketing for Azure.

“It’s a hard business transformation. The technology change in how we bring innovation to market with a services view is big, but the notion of online service [that is] always available from data centers around the world--[means] finance has to work in a  different way; marketing, licensing and pricing all have to work in a different way.”

Carl Brooks contributed to this report.

Check out all the news from Microsoft Worldwide Partner Conference 2011.

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