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Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer had two words for the world's most important business leaders attending the company's CEO Summit this week -- "the cloud."
Of course, by the cloud, Ballmer meant Microsoft's cloud computing infrastructure and the application services the company is selling, or plans to sell, via that infrastructure.
"There is incredible opportunity in the cloud," Ballmer told his audience. "It's a land of opportunity for companies like ours to build the infrastructure."
Microsoft's (NASDAQ: MSFT) CEO Summit, now in its 14th year, has become one of a handful of business gatherings that rival large, glitzy multi-governmental summits held by world leaders. The event is held on Microsoft's Redmond, Wash. Campus.
However, Ballmer didn't just highlight all the processing taking place in the cloud. He was also noted the devices that will use the cloud -- all part of the company's long running "software plus services" pitch. Microsoft's strategy is to keep PCs as one of the three types of devices -- the PC, the TV, and the phone -- that will provide users access to the Internet as well as to data centers in the future wherever and whenever they choose.
"The cloud wants smarter devices that are secure, and manageable, and low cost," he added. Ballmer said to expect fundamental changes in where the services for this new generation of smart devices will come from. Ballmer said to expect fundamental changes in where those services that smart devices will use come from.
He pointed to new Microsoft data centers that host services like Exchange Online, SharePoint Online, and other services that are part of the Microsoft Business Productivity Online Suite -- services that Microsoft currently claims have 40 million users.
New data centers have been greatly simplified to where they are little more than high-tech shipping containers -- with power, cooling, and networking built in -- that can be quickly deployed on a concrete pad and be up and running almost overnight.
"The cloud is going to completely change how we think of data centers," Ballmer said.
Cloud computing is a familiar topic for Ballmer of late. The company has invested heavily in making many of its business products available to subscribers via computing services "in the cloud" -- and the company has been building data centers globally to host those applications at a break neck pace.
At a speech at the University of Washingtonin Seattle in March, Ballmer said the company is "all in" when it comes to the cloud.
CEOs, royalty and the U.S. Secretary of the Treasury
This year's summit has attracted 125 CEOs and other business leaders from companies in 27 countries, who are responsible for 11 million employees all told, according to a fact sheetposted online by Microsoft.
On the guest list this year, along with Microsoft chairman Bill Gates, are Timothy Geithner, the U.S. Secretary of the Treasury, Rob Walton, chairman of retail giant Walmart (NYSE: WMT), Jamie Dimon, chairman and CEO of J.P. Morgan Chase (NYSE: JPM), and Barry Diller, chairman and CEO Internet firm IAC (NASDAQ: IACI), which includes Expedia.
The event has also drawn real royalty in the person of Her Majesty Queen Rania Al Abdullah of Jordan.
Other notable business leaders attending the event -- which runs from May 18 to 20 -- include long-time attendees Jeff Bezos, chairman, president, and CEO of Amazon.com (NASDAQ: AMZN), and Gates' personal friend Warren Buffett, chairman and CEO of investment firm Berkshire Hathaway (NYSE: BRK-A). Besides Buffett, Charlie Munger, Berkshire Hathaway's vice-chairman is also in attendance.
Microsoft co-founder Gates originated the CEO Summit in 1997 in order to get business leaders from around the world together to discuss issues bearing on global corporations and the impacts of various technologies on them. Beyond Ballmer's keynote, the event features panel discussions and breakout sessions in an informal setting and is closed to the public.
At last year's Summit, Gates told global execs that technology could pull the U.S. economy out of recessionand aid the world's financial markets.
Themes from earlier years have included discussions of unified communications, Gates' vision of the "digital lifestyle," and user interface breakthroughs such as wall-sized touch screens.
Among the topics slated for discussion at this year's summit are "Strategic Shifts: Managing changes to the global context in which companies and CEOs are operating," and "Reigniting Growth: Emerging stronger from the global recession, seizing new opportunities."
Stuart J. Johnston is a contributing writer at InternetNews.com, the network for technology professionals.