Microsoft pushes new directions at Partner Conference

Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer and Bob Muglia, president of Microsoft's Server and Tools Business, discussed the company's major cloud computing efforts at the opening of Microsoft's Worldwide Partner Conference.

Microsoft is betting big on cloud computing. The software giant’s top officers hit that theme repeatedly in keynote addresses at Microsoft’s Worldwide Partner Conference 2010 today in Washington, D.C.

“The cloud wants smarter devices,” said Chief Executive Officer Steve Ballmer.

Devices with robust processing and software capabilities are more advantageous for cloud computing applications than thin clients, Ballmer said. The future will see smart clouds communicating with smart client devices such as personal computers, smart phones and a new generation of appliances such as Web-enabled televisions. “Rich is the No. 1 path forward,” he said.

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Microsoft will continue to support thin clients, he said, reassuring customers, such as government agencies, who require that their data remain centralized for security purposes. But he emphasized that smart clients provide a variety of advantages.

Ballmer said Microsoft must provide a range of options that fit with enterprise and information technology solutions. Although there will be a variety of smart form factors and devices, they will all run on Windows 7 and provide a range of applications, such as touch. He said the new devices will support workers' business needs, but they will also reflect their personal interests.

Following up on Ballmer’s talk, Bob Muglia, president of Microsoft’s Server and Tools Business, highlighted some of the company’s efforts to support cloud computing. He said the technology represents the transformation of an industry and fundamentally changes how Microsoft and its partners deliver IT as a service.

Muglia said the IT industry views cloud computing as having three components: infrastructure as a service, platforms as a service and software as a service. Microsoft is blending platforms and software services in its new Windows Azure, which he described as the world’s first general-purpose cloud platform.

Designed to operate on millions of computers in data centers globally, the new platform has a broad set of underlying tools to support a variety of application design efforts. Muglia said Azure will become available later this year.

The new platform's release also includes SQL Azure, which is a cloud database capability that Muglia said is already running in thousands of data centers globally. It allows users to write business applications for their customers. He added that Azure allows new solutions to be built that could not be built before.

Muglia also introduced a tool codenamed Dallas, which is an Azure-based information marketplace that gathers data, imagery, and real-time Web services from commercial and public sources into a single location, under a unified provisioning and billing framework. For example, Dallas provides users with tools to access data such as demographic information to create models and applications.