Microsoft’s cloud platform – Azure – had a stormy week, but the silver lining is that the company isn’t shying away from the necessary pain involved in transforming itself from a shrink wrapped software hawker to a computing services provider.
The 11 hour outage was the result of a poorly done system update. At the risk of taking a cheap shot, that’s the kind of glitch that the Windows operating system – and its predecessors – have routinely experienced for more than 30 years. To a large extent, those past problems were unavoidable – information technology grew so explosively that every day was a step into the unknown. Like everyone else, Microsoft engineers had no choice but to make it up on the fly.
But Microsoft’s near-monopoly in the desk top world also played a role. There was nowhere else for system administrators to go and no choice but to plow through whatever problems came with the updates.
It’s a different world now. Cloud computing is, in most respects, a commodity service. The cost of switching from one platform to another isn’t zero, but it isn’t an insurmountable barrier, either. If Amazon and Google are up and running, Microsoft can’t afford to simply shrug its shoulders when the Blue Screen of Death stares out at millions of users all at once.
Slowly but surely, Microsoft is learning how to live in a competitive marketplace. Another encouraging sign is the decision to let Microsoft Garage – a semi-independent corporate hacker space – develop apps for any platform. If Microsoft wants to remain relevant, R&D has to respond to the demands of a competitive and heterogenous market, not serve the demands of Windows and Office. The message seems to be getting through.