Microsoft Azure. Caviar or Dogfooding?

Microsoft's cloud computing strategy is a tale of two clouds. There are its popular software-as-a-service offerings: SharePoint, Exchange, Dynamics CRM, and the soon-to-be-released new Web version of Office 2010. And there's Microsoft's emerging platform as a service, Microsoft Azure

One of the main cogs of Microsoft's cloud strategy is Microsoft Azure, its approach to selling computing power over the Internet based on usage, as customers need it. Microsoft has some enterprise customers such as Kelley Blue Book and Domino's testing key Web applications on Azure, and some smaller tech companies sell software services running on the platform. But Microsoft Azure continues to be a work in progress.

This week, Microsoft is upgrading their MSDN blogging platform. Meaning: For the next week, bloggers will not be able to make any new posts unless they were queued before the upgrade started. Also, nobody will be able to make posts on new or existing blog entries. So here we have one whole week of downtime for Microsoft's communication with their users. Could any of Microsoft's own customers afford the luxury of a week-long offline upgrade for their own companies? Another case is Windows Live Hotmail. An update is coming soon to Hotmail. Another blog entry talks about how Microsoft uses feedback from Hotmail users to decide which features to implement. This new release has a lot of "social" features, but still lacks the basic IMAP functionality that any decent mail system should have. Users hunger for standard IMAP connectivity, but Microsoft serves them the hacky Outlook Connector instead.

Both of these examples expose Microsoft's version-oriented and feature-oriented view of software. Rather than seeing the web as a series of services that are always online, Microsoft seems to have no problem with taking their blogs offline for a week, which is an eternity in Internet time. Rather than incrementally improving Hotmail with small tweaks over time, Microsoft focuses on big-bang releases and still manages to ignore the need for basic IMAP functionality

Dogfooding, in Microsoft-speak is the act of using a product or service internally so that its developers can experience it the same way that customers will. With their Microsoft Azure efforts, Microsoft seems to have lost its way. Their cloud efforts reflect an internal diet that's more like caviar than dogfood.

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