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Microsoft cloud strategy turns competitors into partners

For a company once known for its closed ecosystem, the Microsoft cloud strategy is increasingly reliant on the competition.

Microsoft continues to link itself to other vendors' clouds, increasing capabilities for its existing users and opening itself to customers at the same time.

This past week may have been the best example yet of Microsoft's push to be more inclusive and to acknowledge the multi-cloud environments many IT shops deploy. The additions included backup capabilities for workloads on other clouds, a supported version of Azure from a cloud provider known for its management capabilities and the extension of Windows Server to one of Microsoft's biggest public cloud rivals.

These are the types of moves cloud vendors have to make unless they operate with a very narrow focus, said Carl Brooks, an analyst with 451 Research, LLC, based in York.

"If you're going to make a claim to compete in this particular arena, you have to be ecumenical at this point, or, if you're not, you better have a really good reason," Brooks said.

Microsoft realizes the best path to success with Azure and its other technologies is to be more open, said Paul Burns, principal analyst for Neovise LLC in Fort Collins, Colo.

They've had a lot more of a closed system, and yes, they're getting more inclusive, but not in the altruistic sense.
Paul Burnsprincipal analyst for Neovise LLC

"They've had a lot more of a closed system, and yes, they're getting more inclusive, but not in the altruistic sense," Burns said.

One of the best examples of how this plays into the Microsoft cloud strategy is Azure Site Recovery, a backup and disaster recovery tool that now includes support for VMware and Amazon Web Services (AWS) workloads.

"That's a great way to sample the Microsoft goods and decide if that's going to be helpful," Burns said. "That stands out as having the potential of converting customers on other ecosystems to move over to Microsoft."

Site recovery and backup are "stalking horses" for cloud because disaster recovery is usually one of the top three reasons companies use cloud, Brooks said.

Traditional backup is orders of magnitude more expensive than doing it in the cloud and requires much more maintenance, Brooks said. VMware has gained considerable traction with cloud DR with its own customer base, and it presents an opportunity for Microsoft, which is in a similar position with its infrastructure technology. Meanwhile, public cloud frontrunner AWS has deliberately ignored it and offloaded those capabilities to partners.

"It's an where they can really pick up momentum," he added.

Another move that will extend Microsoft's reach came from Google this week. The company made Windows Server generally available on its cloud platform, meaning all three of the "hyper-scale" cloud vendors now support the operating system.

Don't expect the Google support to cannibalize any business, Burns said. It's more likely to help by offering the servers to customers who have chosen to go with Google already and want to at least have the ability to use Windows.

Rackspace extends Microsoft partnership to Azure

Microsoft has also expanded its Cloud Solution Provider program to 131 markets and added Azure and CRM Online to the initiative, which already included Office 365, Windows Intune and Enterprise Mobility Suite.

Perhaps the most notable of the new provider partners is Rackspace. Rackspace already runs supported versions of other cloud vendors' products, including Microsoft Office 365, Microsoft Cloud Platform -- the private cloud version of Azure -- and Google Apps for Work. This support is the "next logical step," said Rackspace CTO John Engates.

The Rackspace-supported version is only available in the U.S., but it's expected to be available worldwide by the end of the year. The partnership deal is a smart one because it shows the importance of services versus infrastructure, Brooks said.

"It makes the intersection of what folks want to get out of a hosted cloud style solution versus what the actual technology is," Brooks said. "This makes that much cleaner."

After flirting with a potential buyout last year, Rackspace backed away from competing with the "hyper-scale" public cloud vendors and doubled down on its commitment to managed services. During the company's quarter earnings call in May, CEO Taylor Rhodes hinted at this type of partnership. And while Rackspace has no plans to its own public cloud offering, IT pros should "stay tuned" for other potential deals, Engates said.

"Our track record with Microsoft led to Azure as a step there, but it doesn't rule out other clouds," Engates said. "It's certainly possible we would do other similar support agreements."

Trevor Jones is the news writer for SearchCloudComputing. You can reach him at [email protected].

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