Cloud computing ramifications of Ozzie's Microsoft exit

Ray Ozzie, Microsoft's chief software architect and top cloud maestro, is leaving the company. What effect will his departure have on Microsoft's future in the cloud?

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As Microsoft execs talk up the company's grand Azure cloud plan at its Professional Developers Conference this week, questions remain around how committed the software giant really is to cloud computing.

There's a certain irony in that Microsoft seems to be getting its [stuff] together, although way belatedly.

John Landry, former CTO of Lotus Development Corp.

Despite billions invested in Azure, there are still many at Microsoft more devoted to the company's legacy, on-premises products. You know -- server and PC software that people actually pay money for. Conspiracy theorists say that Microsoft really wants to delay and defer true cloud computing to prolong the life cycles of its Windows and Office cash cows.

Adding to the buzz fest is the departure -- announced last week -- of Ray Ozzie, handpicked by Microsoft founder Bill Gates to run the company's software strategy. Ozzie came in to drive the move into services and the cloud. He was the visionary to CEO Steve Ballmer's field marshall/enforcer.

"Azure never would have happened without Ray, because the product groups would have nothing to do with it. They were protecting their own turf," said one current Microsoft insider who spoke on condition of anonymity.

Others agree that Ozzie, coming in as something of an outsider, faced a formidable host of insiders arrayed against the cloud. And indeed, many held out against a new exec that they viewed as a threat to their positions.

"Ray was the cloud guy and his services point of view certainly encompassed products delivered from a data center versus a floppy. He definitely was the instigator for Azure and Live Mesh," said a former Microsoft exec from that era. "When he was frustrated by how slowly the product teams were moving on those cloud concepts, he took hundreds -- it might have been over a thousand -- developers out of the product divisions to incubate the products himself."

Azure cloud skunkworks
In that, Ozzie repeated history. Years before, he set up an autonomous skunkworks miles away from Lotus Development Corp., the parent company. It was Iris, not Lotus, that built Lotus Notes, the game-changing email and collaboration product that many viewed as the company's savior as Lotus 1-2-3 died a slow death (largely due to the Microsoft Office onslaught).

But this time, Ozzie's land grab caused problems that plagued the rest of his tenure at Microsoft.

The former Microsoft executive said the Azure "power play" cost Ozzie the veneer of being a neutral chief software architect. Instead, he placed himself squarely into the "internecine combat that is Microsoft product culture," this source said. In his view it was a costly move, but the right one. If Ozzie hadn't done it, "Microsoft would still be sitting without a cloud strategy," this source said.

Ozzie's Azure and Live Mesh software development efforts caused a lot of ill will and eventually were moved into product organizations. Azure was subsumed last year into Bob Muglia's Windows group, a move made some sense as the platform was already going commercial. Live Mesh, which is data and file synchronization software, went over to Steven Sinofsky's group. There's also word that Microsoft Technical Fellow Mark Russinovich took on some Azure duties this summer, but the company has yet to provide details on his role.

Ozzie hints at some of that strife in his farewell Dawn of a New Day memo to Microsoft. Ozzie writes that developers should close their eyes and really assess what the post-PC world will be. His very use of the term "post-PC" must have raised hackles at Microsoft, where leadership still seems to think that the PC will remain the primary compute device even as more young people and IT pros move their workloads to phones and other non-Windows-centric devices.

Reading between the lines, one line in particular seems to point a finger at top leadership for a failure to clear the decks for new ideas.

"Those above are responsible for developing and articulating a compelling vision, eliminating obstacles, prioritizing resources, and generally setting the stage with a principled approach," Ozzie wrote.

Microsoft strides in Ozzie era
Even some Microsoft skeptics say the company has made great strides in areas it had been weak -- including the cloud.

[Ray Ozzie] was definitely was the instigator for Azure and Live Mesh.

A former Microsoft executive,

John Landry has watched Microsoft from many angles. He had been CTO of Lotus Development Corp., which competed tooth-and-nail with Microsoft Exchange Server and Office. After that, he founded several startups, including some that built on the Microsoft platform.

"There's a certain irony in that Microsoft seems to be getting its [stuff] together, although way belatedly," he said. He likes Azure, especially the SQL Azure database on-demand capabilities. And Windows 7 goes a long way to remedy what went wrong in Vista .

The new Windows 7 Phone is also a huge improvement over previous Microsoft phone efforts, Landry said. "Would I buy one? No. But I'd take one if they gave it to me and that was not the case in the past."

The question, according to Landry (who is an Ozzie fan), is whether all those improvements came from Ozzie's input or if it's that Microsoft writ large has changed.

Let us know what you think about the story; email Barbara Darrow, Senior News Director, at bdarrow@techtarget.com.

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