Windows Azure is integrating Microsoft's enterprise products into a single solution on the cloud.

Microsoft is readying its gameplan in India to tap into the enterprises segment. One of the key weapons in its arsenal is Windows Azure. With Azure, Microsoft is hoping to replicate its desktop success in the enterprises business through cloud computing. However, it faces an uphill task as competition from and to some extent Amazon and Google intensify in the Indian market.

Windows Azure is Microsoft's avatar of the cloud- wherein it has integrated its different enterprise related products like Microsoft SQL, office Web Apps, Dynamics, Office 365 and other functionalities into a single solution. It can be run either on the cloud or in the traditional way.

The company feels that this combination has resulted in some amount of success in the Indian market. Already, the company has bagged about 2,000 customers- ranging from startups, Independent Software Vendors (ISVs are companies who take a particular software product to the market place) to Indian conglomerates like the Essar Group. Competitors like who count Wipro as one of their partners are also readying their ecosystem to take to market their solutions.

Gaining traction

One noticeable thing with regard to Azure is the totality of the solution - from software developers who can develop products for Azure to integrating existing Microsoft enterprise products, it is a one-stop shop.

This has found favour amongst many SMEs. Gradatim, a company that has developed products for the micro-finance sector with products like insurance has different computing needs. “We needed our systems to be up and running in a few weeks rather than months. Also, since some of our loan products are for the duration of a month, computing needs are very high,” said CV Prakash, Founder and CEO, Gradatim. The company did not want to go the traditional way of procurement of hardware, maintaining licenses of applications, which would result in higher op-ex. With Azure, the company claims that was up and running in a couple of weeks without infrastructure investments.

iNube, a similar company that provides cloud-based solutions for the Indian insurance sector felt that in order to reach out to all agents across the country, the company needed a solution. However, it did not want to invest in the incremental hardware and deal with software maintenance as it added scale to its business.

“We do not have trained manpower who can manage technical issues and one of the main reasons we chose Azure was due to the support that MS offered,” said Vinod Iyer, CEO, iNube. In Karnataka alone, the company manages 2.5 million families and has to maintain claims-related information for all of them.

Moving to the cloud is also relevant for companies who have global ambitions. “Amongst other advantages, we chose Azure for the global relationships that Microsoft brings in,” said Samir Bodas, CEO, Icertis. Icertis provides enterprise solutions around ERP-related areas such as contract relationship management.

Even Gradatim has global ambitions with its microfinance products being launched in Africa and other emerging markets.

Developing ecosystem around Azure

The software industry is about creating an ecosystem and Microsoft is attempting the same for Azure too. First, have developers build applications for its Azure platform, then ISVs get to develop their applications and go-to-market with it and finally these applications are targeted at companies.

In India, startups and SMBs have been the primary adopters for Azure, with a sprinkling of large enterprises too taking to it. Cognizant, which is one of the ISVs of Microsoft also used Azure internally for some of its requirements. Cognizant will facilitate collaboration between customers and technology specialists, solution architects, security experts among others to provide Azure cloud solutions.

Another way the company is developing the ecosystem is by enabling BizSpark+, whereby it has tied up with venture capitalists and incubators such as Accel Partners, Morpheus Venture Partners and Gradatim to fund every start-up with $60,000 worth of Microsoft software. The three venture capital (VC) partners will use this money to invest in Microsoft technology that will eventually be used by the start-ups. “This ensures that startups can work on innovative products, and for Microsoft it means more business eventually,” said Ludovic Ulrich, Global Program Manager – BizSpark, Emerging Business Team, Microsoft.

Concerns around lock in

Despite all the talk about Microsoft being used in 80 per cent of enterprises globally, there are concerns around vendor lock in. According to GigaOm, a Web 2.0 blog, “This extends from lock-in on the operating system, to lock-in on the language platform, as well as lock-in on the Azure services. Also, many companies do have to solve big compute problems that Java, unlike .NET is well positioned to tackle.”

This also begs the question, what if one day you wanted out of Azure's cloud and want to move to Amazon, Salesforce or Google? Answers Yousef Khalidi, Distinguished Engineer, Microsoft: “If you look at the roadmap we put out a year ago, it was more confined to .NET (a Microsoft programming language) only. In the subsequent months, we opened it up and a developer can program in Java, PHP and managed code.”

With the cloud still in its nascent stage there is a lot of open source development that is going on for cloud enabling enterprise apps. Amazon's AWS, and Google's App Engine are readying their platforms wherein a company can use the cloud for most of its IT needs. “With Microsoft one can have a hybrid approach to the cloud. Enterprises might choose to keep some applications in their premises and others on the cloud. This is our unique advantage,” points out Srikanth Karnakota, Director Server and Cloud Business, Microsoft India.

Rajan Anandan, Google India MD, recently told Business Line that Google is well positioned to deliver enterprise solutions on the cloud and that would be the way of the future when a majority of the apps will move to the cloud.

(This article was published on April 29, 2012)
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