Microsoft's Ozzie unveils invisible cloud

LOS ANGELES Tue Nov 17, 2009 8:31pm EST

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Microsoft Corp's (MSFT.O) venture into cloud computing will be successful if most people don't even know it is there, the executive in charge of the initiative said on Tuesday.

The software company's new Windows Azure service, set to be launched on January 1, will run customers' applications on its servers and provide capacity through its massive datacenters, helping websites stay up through spikes in demand which might otherwise paralyze them.

"For consumers, the best result of cloud computing is that they don't notice it," Ray Ozzie, Microsoft's chief software architect, said in an interview at the company's annual developers conference.

"Companies that are not in IT -- like retailers and manufacturing companies -- still deal with their customers on the web," said Ozzie. "Azure allows us to do the hard work of figuring out how to build those really high-scale systems that deal with all the consumers, and it lets businesses focus on what they are good at."

The Monday after Thanksgiving -- often the busiest Internet shopping day of the year -- is an example of when a company may suddenly need more servers to deal with purchases on its website, but can't afford to maintain those servers all year round.

"From a consumer's perspective, when they hit the shopping cart online, they'll be able to complete the transaction," said Ozzie. "They won't lose that shopping cart and they won't have to hit that back button, and wonder 'Did the transaction go through?'"

Health scares or disasters could be other times when website operators suddenly need more capacity to deal with demand.

"What this cloud computing allows IT departments to do, is to just buy computing as you need it," said Ozzie. "If you have an application that you'd like to run and just try it a little, you only end up paying a little , and if your demand gets greater and greater, then we just turn up the dial and we give you more and more."

NEW DIRECTION

This new approach -- giving developers a platform to write online applications, and renting out space in datacenters -- sounds like a radical departure for Microsoft, which has relied on selling packaged software for customers to install on their own machines for much of its growth.

But Ozzie says the focus on software, not how it is delivered, is the connecting strand.

"What made Microsoft what it is today is software," said Ozzie. "I don't think that there's some dramatic shift here in terms of value. Software at its core is what we are."

Ozzie, 53, took over the chief software architect role in June 2006, when Chairman Bill Gates stepped back from day-to-day involvement in the company he co-founded.

The creator of the Lotus Notes e-mail application, regarded as one of the software industry's pantheon of pioneers, Ozzie has been the central force pushing Microsoft in the direction of cloud computing.

His employees understand the need to change, but change itself has not been easy, said Ozzie.

"Change management is tough, always, in any industry, when you go from one generation of capabilities to another," said Ozzie. "The great thing about this transformation is that because we all use the web, we all use the Internet at home, people can understand it, pretty much every employee can understand why things are different now."

That was not always the case, said Ozzie, who remembers the days when it was not obvious that computing devices would become so central to communication.

"Of course there's risk," in the shift to new technology models, said Ozzie, but the change won't be abrupt or wholesale.

"Customers are very pragmatic, they figure out the right way to connect the old with the new," he said. "For every given application, a camera, a phone, there's some good combination of software in the device and in the cloud. Making them work together is what we are trying to do."

(Reporting by Bill Rigby; Editing by Richard Chang)