Does Microsoft's Azure plan in a multi-cloud world ominously echo its Windows-everywhere past?

Before iOS and Android usurped the PC by way of mobile, Microsoft's Windows operating system ruled computing. As a once Windows-centric world has now embraced iOS, Android and Chrome, Microsoft has positioned Azure as a Super OS that embraces these other platforms.

Microsoft envisions Azure as a cloud platform that will run the world's cross-platform apps, power tens of billions of Internet of Things (IoT) devices, stream content like media and games and power intelligent edge devices. As a cloud provider second only to Amazon (AWS), and a company achieving billions of dollars of growth in its cloud business every year, Microsoft seems well on its way to its goal.

Still, Microsoft is trying to seduce the world into its Windows-for-everyone-and-everything like Azure-for-everyone-and-everything strategy. Despite Microsoft's leadership (second to Amazon) position in a multi-cloud world, AWS and Google Cloud Platform (GCP) are the preferred cloud services by many. Given this indisputable reality, perhaps Microsoft's approach to the cloud should be as collaborative as its Windows and other cross-platform efforts have become.

A multi-cloud world and a multi-platform precedent

The cloud wars are aggressive. The billions of dollars in revenue cloud generates, and the influence cloud leaders have on the evolving computing landscape are enticing rewards fueling this struggle. Cloud is the connective tissue that binds the evolving ambient computing landscape, mobile computing, Always Connected PCs (ACPC), app development and workload deployment, IoT, 5G-powered edge computing, and more. It is core to Microsoft's ubiquitous computing strategy.

It is interesting that when most people speak of the cloud, from consumers, IT professionals and tech writers alike, there is usually no distinction made between the various cloud providers unless it is necessary to do so to make a particular point. The clouds are often referred to collectively as "The Cloud." Our computing behavior carries us across different cloud providers as we move from work to home or between different apps and platforms throughout the day and blurs the lines between what cloud we are using – and we often don't care (or notice) as long as the job is done. For most users most of the time, the multi-cloud reality is experienced as a singular cloud experience.

In a multi-cloud world we increasingly experience "The Cloud" as a singular entity.

The multi-cloud world is here, it is complex and is integrated in the way enterprises do business, and how consumers experience the digital landscape; and like the multi-OS reality that changed computing forever – it's here to stay. As Microsoft had to change its "Windows-must-dominate-computing strategy to adapt to a multi-OS world, it must also temper its Azure-will-power-the-world's-computing vision with a sober acknowledgment that despite having a leading position, enterprises and consumers are using different cloud platforms. Thus, as Microsoft adapted Windows to work with iOS and Android and is pursuing an aggressive cross-platform app strategy – perhaps it should also aggressively pursue a cross-cloud strategy – like Google is doing.

Google's cross-cloud Anthos solution

This past April, Google announced its cross-platform cloud strategy, Anthos. Seemingly taking a page out of Microsoft's cross-platform playbook, Anthos allows users to run their Google-managed workloads on competing cloud platforms like AWS and Azure. Google's SVP of Technical Infrastructure at Google Urs Hölzle said, "The ability for businesses to run on multiple clouds is really a game changer."

Since Satya Nadella's tenure as Microsoft's CEO, the company has dramatically shifted its position related to collaboration with other companies and sharing its software, technology, and knowledge with others. Office on iOS and Android, open sourcing .NET, freely sharing what it learns of A.I., sharing its inclusion strategies in hiring people with autism and more have repositioned the company as less Microsoft-centric and more of a collaborator.

Despite this evolving legacy it seems Google beat Microsoft to the punch with a cross-platform cloud strategy. Still given Microsoft's new-found openness, clear cross-platform goals and its own investments in Kubernetes - the foundational technology for Googles Anthos – cross-platform cloud seems inevitable for Microsoft.

Microsoft should embrace all cloud platforms

As cloud computing continues to evolve and users continue moving across cloud services to facilitate their digital experiences and enterprises move workloads across different clouds via solutions like Google's Anthos, the perception of "The Cloud" as a singular platform, like the Internet, may begin to take greater root.

This may ultimately lead to cloud providers becoming more intentional and more aggressive with solutions that transcend the boundaries of individual cloud providers. Perhaps, like Google, Microsoft and Amazon will be pushing solutions that allow users to manage their workloads on rival clouds – and more. Microsoft's recent cloud partnership for gaming and more with Sony seems to be a step in the right direction.

For now, Microsoft is touting Azure as a platform-agnostic development platform, an environment that powers cross-platform apps, and Linux even powers many of its solutions. Still, when it comes to what cloud service will power the world's computing Microsoft seems to be wearing the same Windows-centric-type blinders that gave the company Microsoft-focused tunnel vision in years past. The cloud, in practice, isn't just a diversity of platforms, however; but in how we experience it and in how it is evolving, "The Cloud" is a singular conglomeration of Amazon-Microsoft-Google and others which is transparently serving us as a "singular platform". Microsoft must acknowledge this and as it invests to further Azure's footprint, it must also invest in aggressive cross-cloud efforts that bring its assets across other clouds, or rather other parts of "The Cloud."

Jason Ward

Jason L Ward is a columnist at Windows Central. He provides unique big picture analysis of the complex world of Microsoft. Jason takes the small clues and gives you an insightful big picture perspective through storytelling that you won't find *anywhere* else. Seriously, this dude thinks outside the box. Follow him on Twitter at @JLTechWord. He's doing the "write" thing!