For the last couple of years, Microsoft has been talking up Azure as the future of both application development and business applications, with everything from Exchange to SharePoint to SQL built for the cloud first, with the server versions showing up six or nine months later.
Those on-premise versions aren't going away – the 2016 wave of server products is just coming out, and SharePoint chief Jeff Teper has been reassuring customers since 2013 that Microsoft could carry on creating server versions of products, while noting that the best experience would be on Office 365.
Stacking them up
Azure Stack may be the way Microsoft squares that circle – the new version of Dynamics AX is available now as a cloud service and will be on Azure Stack after it ships at the end of this year as well, which might mean we'll see more Microsoft cloud services go the same way.
Azure Stack is a big part of how Microsoft is offering hybrid cloud, which Mike Schutz, the general manager of Microsoft's enterprise cloud team, says is what businesses want for cloud and data. The fear of cloud is largely gone, he says.
Schutz notes: "Customers have moved from 'why cloud?' to deploying cloud. Those businesses that were sceptical about whether cloud even made sense for them? They are now really actively looking at how they should be using cloud, and coming up with their own cloud strategies, whether that be at the infrastructure layer, building new applications or consuming SaaS services. For the enterprise customers that we work with, that's where hybrid cloud comes in."
It's not that hybrid cloud is better than public cloud; it's always going to cost you more to build and run your own cloud system. He points out that "startups who don't have existing, legacy infrastructure investments are just adopting public cloud in full force". But most businesses already have IT systems that they're using.
"Enterprises have to balance the investments they have, with getting all the benefits public cloud brings. They want the agility public cloud brings, being able to spin up new applications into virtual machines, new databases in just a few clicks and minutes, instead of procuring servers and deploying all the software they would have to do in the past.
"They want that agility, as well as the cost savings they're able to get. But they also have to figure out how do they make that intertwine and operate with their existing infrastructure and app investment, so hybrid has become the way that we think and that most of our customers are now beginning to think is how they're going to approach the cloud."
Enabling business growth
Schutz points out an Avanade study where 74% of enterprises believe that 'hybrid cloud will enable business growth' as well as IDC's prediction that more than 80% of enterprise IT organisations will commit to hybrid cloud architecture by the time 2017 arrives.
In fact, he says: "Many of them are already taking their first steps, are already using hybrid cloud using some of our technology. We continue to invest in making that on-ramp to public cloud very easy for them while still continuing to make their investments in their on-premise infrastructure more efficient and less costly.
"We're very focused on creating a set of capabilities that help organisations embrace this new world of hybrid cloud, from the concrete and the metal of the hardware, all the way up to the app services."