Microsoft: PaaS opens up the cloud to enterprise of all sizes

Cloud computing

Microsoft launched its Azure platform as a service (PaaS) offering at the beginning of this year. The product competes in a growing market against the likes of Google's App Engine.

Zane Adam, Microsoft's general manager of Azure and middleware, visited the UK to give a keynote speech at IT Expo and meet with journalists. He said he was happy with Azure's performance so far.

"Azure, as a technology, is evolving rapidly, adding new features every few months," he told IT PRO.

"All the way from Windows Azure to SQL Azure to AppFabric the portfolio's growing. We have over 11,000 customers on the platform already and that's getting rapid adoption."

Although the early customers were mainly developers uploading applications to adapt them for cloud use, Adam said this was changing.

"Anything new starts as an experiment. People kick the tyres first before they start putting production applications up. Azure has been going through the same as everything else but now we have production apps up," he said.

One customer he highlighted was EasyJet with its online check-in application. Other UK companies he mentioned included ETV, a UK-based digital media company using Azure to develop and roll-out a social gaming application, and 360 Lifecycle which does customer management in the financial industry.

"We'll always have a bunch of people testing," Adam said. "That's always going to be the case at Azure by design because you're going to test your application in the cloud. Once you're happy with your test you're going to put it in production in the cloud."

PaaS is an attractive proposition for the SMB customer but Microsoft reckons it is now starting to attract larger enterprises. The split is around 75 per cent of tenancies being SMBs but Adam said this figure should be taken with a pinch of salt because it is not easy to tell what size of a business is using the service.

"Tomorrow morning you can go online to our portal, subscribe and start using Azure. You can just do it even if I never talk to you. It's not like I can make a sale; you come and make a purchase as you need. So we don't get that level of details that would allow me to give a solid figure," he explained.

The usage model that Microsoft uses means a customer, such as EasyJet, will be charged for the number of users, or in this case, customers, that use the application. This makes it harder to estimate monthly costs because, with a travel company, usage will peak at holiday times.

The patterns of use become predictable with time, Adam said, and the advantage of being able to handle these spikes without taking any action, and without having to use on-site servers that would spend most of their time idle, is a valuable saving to these customers.

This value to the customer will increase because the services will expand over time, he said.

Adam concluded: "We'll continuously keep adding features. One of the promises is that we'll keep adding features every two months. In the last four or five months I think we've released five to eight features and updates for different parts of Azure and we'll continue doing that."