CEO of Salesforce.com suggests that Microsoft hates everyone( http://venturebeat.com/2008/11/03/salesforcecom-on-microsoft-they-hate-everybody/) by suggesting that we are not an open cloud platform. His assertions are debatable and even his love to everyone is not unconditional (please see http://blogs.zoho.com/uncategorized/mr-benioff-tear-down-that-wall/ ) :)
When it comes to openness of the cloud platform, one has to differentiate between application portability (design time) and runtime interoperability. At its core, every compute cloud is proprietary in nature to some extent from the application portability perspective. Once you go with a service provider like Salesforce, Google, Amazon or Microsoft, you are locked into a Cloud platform. This is similar to SAP, Orcale and Microsoft business applications on-premise. In order for the design time portability to be a reality, lot of work needs to be done in the standards space so that if you don't like a service provider, you can extract your package of data and application and take it somewhere else. I am not sure if that will happen any time soon. Even Mr. Benioff admits that it is still a weakness with Salfesforce platform.
If you look at the runtime interoperability, it is the critical success factor to the very survival of any cloud platform. Considering the heterogeneity of the cloud consumers, run time interoperability limitations will only be detrimental to the provider and am sure even Microsoft is aware of that. Azure Services platform seems to be more comprehensive set of platform capabilities that can seamlessly interoperate with either on-premise systems or in-the-cloud systems. Who can argue with the runtime interoperability of REST and SOAP based layer surrounding Azure platform. For the foreseeable future, we have to live with on-premise systems be it Microsoft or otherwise. Whoever offers a comprehensive platform that will take into account the pure cloud based interoperability combined with organic coexistence of the on-premise systems, will make the transition painless and should be your friend!
So, Microsoft doesn’t hate everyone as Mr. Benioff suggests; they love everyone by offering the most flexible and extensible cloud platform that is interoperable with other cloud and on-premise systems through web services. Azure offers broad language and development tool choices (VB, C#, Java, Ruby, PHP, Python, Ecliplise, ...) than Salesforce.
In my professional life, I have seen the industry inflexion points that were touted as the panacea for all our computing illnesses – CASE, OO, CORBA, DCOM, SOA, MDM, MDA, etc. Whenever I see a new trend I am a bit cautiously optimistic including our own until I saw Azure in action.
I never been so excited as when I saw Azure cracking open the data center silos through standards based interoperability and in the process reducing IT inertia that often comes in the way business dynamics. Hammering out business deals between companies (Microsoft/Yahoo deal was an exception of course;)) based on the win/win framework is very straight forward and often IT’s inability to cope with the change (I would like to call this – IT Inertia) comes in the way of these deals from becoming a success. If you picture Azure running the applications of both ends of the partnership, IT risk is minimal compared to proprietary data centers. Even if Azure does not run both ends, partner IT orgs should easily bounce messages off the Azure cloud in a secure manner to attain seamless integration with optimal IT spend.
AZURE Services platform when fully implemented, creates a logical data center out of several physical proprietary data centers thereby reducing IT inertia and in the process paving way for each creation new business value chains!