Microsoft will be launching a new cloud computing service later this month to compete with the Google App Engine.
Last week Steve Ballmer chatted up the notion of a Microsoft-based cloud-computing environment expected for release later this month, calling it “Windows Cloud”. While some, including Ballmer, have described Windows Cloud as an operating system for the Internet, that may not quite be the best way to describe what it actually is. In essence, Windows Cloud is a lot like the Google App Engine and Amazon EC2, none of which are really an operating system.
While “Windows Cloud” is not the final name or codename of the project, Ballmer had said “I bet we’ll call it Windows something.” Cloud computing has become a popular marketing term these days, with the term ’Cloud’ being considered a metaphor for the Internet. According to Wikipedia, cloud computing is described as “a style of computing where IT-related capabilities are provided as a service, allowing users to access technology-enabled services from the Internet.” Several months ago we heard that Microsoft was working on a cloud computing project codenamed Red Dog, which in all likelihood is this “Windows Cloud” we are hearing about now.
One analogy that has been used to describe Windows Cloud is that it is like a grown-up’s version of Facebook’s application platform. Developers are provided the tools and the platform to easily create and host web applications, although unlike with Facebook, applications that use Windows Cloud are much less limited. A better description of Windows Cloud though might be offered by Google with its description of its App Engine, along with a few word substitutions. “[Windows Cloud] lets you run your web applications on [Microsoft]’s infrastructure. [Windows Cloud] applications are easy to build, easy to maintain, and easy to scale as your traffic and data storage needs grow. With [Windows Cloud], there are no servers to maintain: You just upload your application, and it’s ready to serve your users.”
It would seem that there are some preconceived notions that applications using Windows Cloud must be fully server-sided, which does not seem to be the case. One such scenario where Windows Cloud could be used is in the design of a massive multi-player online game. Developers could use Windows Cloud to easily implement an application that manages the players in the game, which scales effortlessly as performance demands vary. Windows Cloud will likely be offered as a service by Microsoft, like the Google App Engine, rather than end-user server software
It is no surprise really that both Google and Microsoft have developed such similar cloud computing services; for years now Microsoft has tried to be more like Google and Google has tried to be more like Microsoft. Although the Google App Engine and Microsoft’s Windows Cloud may turn out to be very similar, there will be differences, but how they will differ exactly is still unknown. It may be that the Google App Engine will focus more heavily on web applications, but that is speculation at this point.
Although Windows Cloud is not yet announced, one known application using Windows Cloud is Microsoft’s Live Mesh, which is currently in open beta. Live Mesh offers a service that keeps information synchronized over the Internet across multiple devices, such PCs, Macs and mobile phones. For those who are familiar with the service called Dropbox, Live Mesh works in a similar fashion, but with greater capabilities. Users using Live Mesh are able to create multiple shared folders, are able leave comments for other folder members and users have 5 GB of free storage available.
Steve Ballmer, when talking about Windows Cloud, also mentioned that a light-weight online version of Microsoft Office was under development. Whether or not this ’web-enhanced’ version of Microsoft Office will be using Windows Cloud is unknown, but it makes for a good example of what should be possible with Windows Cloud. From what we have been told by industry insiders, this online version of Microsoft Office will be far superior to that of other competitive offerings, including Google Docs. We are told that this online version of Microsoft Office will have similar functionality and appearance to that of Microsoft Office 2007, but it will be accessible through a web browser. This online version of Microsoft Office will also be accessible by non-browser means, although we can only speculate about what that means right now.
Windows Cloud will likely be announced at the Professional Developers Conference (PDC) taking place from October 27 to 30, 2008. Also at PDC, it is rumored that there will be a preview of the upcoming version of Microsoft Office.