If I learned anything from attending the recent Microsoft Ignite event in Orlando, Florida, it’s that Microsoft is still an extremely large company operating in an expansive number of market segments. But, it also appears that that largeness has stifled innovation in its Azure cloud platform.
The event’s keynote speeches were littered with so many announcements that each received little more than a quick blurb from Microsoft execs. This was not because the announcements were bland but more because the keynote speeches had timelines.
From my own non-scientific observations, artificial intelligence (AI) and Microsoft’s Office 365 platform were the two most prominent topics discussed by top company executives. That is probably not much of a surprise considering Microsoft’s plans to integrate AI into nearly all of its offerings and the boatload of money being raked in by Office 365 services.
However, I was surprised by how little Microsoft’s Azure platform was given top billing during any of those speeches. It wasn’t that Azure was being ignored, but more that it was treated as a commodity platform underpinning most of Microsoft’s operations.
Now, maybe that is a good thing in that Azure has hit an inflection point within Microsoft where it’s now just assumed it’s tied into everything the company does. But, the downside of that is the platform has perhaps fallen down the priority list in terms of innovation.
Microsoft is solidly the No. 2 player worldwide in terms of the public cloud market. However, that position has it well (well!) behind market leader Amazon Web Services (AWS) and well ahead of a list of smaller players that include Google, Alibaba, IBM, and others.
Microsoft does not really need to do very much to remain above those behind, and it would have to invest an incredible amount of money to try to catch AWS ahead. And from what I heard at the Ignite event, Microsoft unfortunately seems content in its current position.
In speaking with several people at the event, that content has led to stagnation, with many surprised by the lack of real innovation announced by Microsoft for Azure.
“The announcements were really mostly in just catching up to what others are already doing,” said Sam Kroonenburg, co-founder of A Cloud Guru. “These were things that were announced at Re:Invent a couple of years ago.”
A Cloud Guru provides instruction courses for developers looking to work on cloud platforms from AWS, Microsoft, and Google. Kroonenburg himself previously worked as a software developer at Microsoft, which included work on helping to build the Windows 7 platform.
That game of catch-up is probably somewhat expected in that AWS is far-and-away the biggest player in the public cloud space. AWS is also more tightly focused on its cloud play.
“Re:Invent is all about cloud,” Kroonenburg said. “Azure is just part of the show and not the main game. It does not have that developer focus that Amazon is drawing.”
It was also surprising that Microsoft paid very little lip service to its recent $7.5 billion acquisition of GitHub. That deal is expected to more tightly integrate Microsoft with the open source developer community.
If anything, Kroonenburg and others said that the real long-term rival for AWS is more likely to be Google than Microsoft. This is because Google is not as tied to the enterprise space as Microsoft continues to be and thus can target more of the market being dominated by AWS.
I don’t think I am quite ready to count out Microsoft just yet. And admittedly those I talked with at the show admired Microsoft’s efforts and focus on the rich enterprise market.
But let’s hope that focus does not dissuade Microsoft from driving more innovation from its Azure platform and making at run at the top spot.