Demystifying Microsoft in the Cloud

When you read about Microsoft’s offerings in the cloud, you most commonly hear the brands ‘Azure’, ‘Live’, and ‘Online’, without much context about how they are or are not related.  I’ll take a stab at demystifying this here.


Windows Azure Platform

Windows Azure is at the core of Microsoft’s strategy in the cloud.   We are a platform company, and Azure is our Cloud Platform.  We commissioned David Chappell to write a paper about the Windows Azure Platform (located at in which he tackles an overview of the Windows Azure Platform – definitely a good read.  To summarize a bit of what he covers, at its core Windows Azure provides a cloud-based application platform upon which our customers, partners, enterprises, and ISVs can build and run applications in a secure and scalable way.  The Windows Azure Platform is made up of three components:

·         Windows Azure provides a Windows-based computing and storage environment in the cloud.

·         SQL Azure provides a cloud DBMS with SQL Azure Database and data synchronization via “Huron” Data Sync, with more cloud-based data services planned.

·         .NET Services offers cloud-based infrastructure for cloud and on-premises applications.


“Live” and “Online” brands

By itself, Windows Azure does not have a lot of relevance to the end user – it is a set of services in the cloud upon which applications can be run.  Not surprisingly, we are also leveraging the cloud infrastructure that we are building out to provide services to end-users – both consumers with our “Live” offerings, and businesses with our “Online” offerings.

“Live” is the brand behind our consumer and small business focused offerings.  Our vision for computing is for people to be able to do their work and access their data anytime, anyplace, and from any device.  Windows 7 provides that experience on your desktop or laptop, Windows Phones provide your mobile experience, and Windows Live extends this experience to the cloud.  “Live” services are free to the end users and funded by advertisements, with the option to pay a fee for some services (such as mail) for additional capabilities, storage, and no ads.  Access to “Live” services is controlled using Windows Live ID.

“Online” is the brand behind our business-focused offerings – primarily focused on business productivity today with offerings like Exchange Online, Sharepoint Online, and Office Communications Server Online.  “Online” services are “for fee” with no advertisements.  Integration with customers’ Active Directory for access control is included with these offerings.


Windows Live

Windows Live is a free (ad-funded) collection of programs and services that work together so you can get beyond the computer and focus on your life.  These include, but are not limited to:

·         Home: A quick view of your world—e‑mail, invitations, what's new with your network, and what's coming up next in your calendar.

·         Profile: Share your world online with the people you know—your activities, your photos, even the things you do on other websites.

·         People: Manage your contacts from Hotmail, Messenger and Profile, all in one place.

·         Mail: Get fast, reliable e‑mail from Hotmail, with more spam protection and plenty of storage.

·         Photos: Post your favorite shots online in beautiful slide shows, available only to the people you choose.

·         Calendar: Check your schedule, share calendars with others, and get reminders when you need them.

·         SkyDrive : Store the files you need online and share them with the people you choose.

·         Groups: Bring your team, club, or other group together with a webpage, calendar, and more.

·         Spaces: Express yourself with your own customized webpage—add a blog, photos, videos, and more.

·         Family Safety: Help protect your kids online with customizable web filters and contact management.


Windows Live Essentials is a suite of Windows Live programs for your PC which includes:

·         Messenger : More than just chatting—play games, exchange pictures, and make video calls, too.

·         Mail: Save time—check your calendar and multiple e‑mail accounts from one program.

·         Writer: Share your ideas, photos, and videos on almost any blog service.

·         Photo Gallery: Get photos and videos in your camera onto your PC, and then share them on the web.

·         Movie Maker: Create movies from your pictures and video clips.

·         Toolbar: Quickly access your Windows Live services from anywhere on the web.

·         Family Safety: Decide how you want your kids to experience the Internet.


There is a great overview of Windows Live (from which I liberally copied) here:


Office Live

Office Live is a free(ad-funded) collection of cloud-based services focused around the Microsoft Office suite of products.  Today these services consist of:

·         Office Live Workspace: a collaborative, web-based workspace with 5 GB of storage, and hooks to the Microsoft Office Suite.

·         Office Live Small Business: provides a free website, domain name, email, and online document storage for small businesses.

With the release of Office 2010, Windows Live will also deliver browser-based, ad-funded versions of Office applications – branded Office Web Apps.  The Office Web Apps allow you to work with your Microsoft Office files from more places and on more devices by providing browser-based viewing and lightweight editing of Word 2010, Excel 2010, PowerPoint 2010 and OneNote 2010 files.  The Office Web Apps are designed to work with Internet Explorer, Safari and Firefox and requires SharePoint 2010 or a Windows Live account.


Live Mesh

Currently in public beta, Live Mesh is a data synchronization system that allows 5GB of files, folders and other data to be shared and synchronized across multiple devices, including PCs, Macs, and Mobile Phones.  Once a folder is set for synchronization, it will be available in all devices, and any changes made to the content of the folder will be reflected across all devices.  Devices in a sync relationship are collectively referred to as a Mesh.


Microsoft Online Services

Microsoft Online Services are our flagship business productivity solutions delivered as a subscription service.  This offering includes the latest business-class e-mail, Web conferencing, instant messaging, document collaboration and workflow that can be purchased as a suite or ‘a la carte’.  End users have the ability to securely access the service anywhere without the need for a VPN connection and through a wide selection of mobile devices.  Online offerings integrate with on-premises servers and applications so that organizations can run some applications internally and others as hosted services, while leveraging tools such as Active Directory synchronization so you can make online, on-premises, or hybrid deployment choices by service, user roles, and geography to meet organizational needs best.  Microsoft Online Services run on a global network of world-class data centers protected by multiple layers of security and operational best practices, guarantee a service level agreement of 99.9% uptime, and are managed by rigorously screened and highly trained staff.


Online Services really merits a post all its own - I'll have to get on that... 🙂

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