OPINION: Microsoft CEO goes cloud crazy

I really hate it when vendors throw out completely unverifiable statistics.


Case in point, Microsoft Corp. CEO Steve Ballmer speaking to a wide range of computer science students at the University of Washington this week.


“We employ across the globe about 40,000 people who are involved in building software, 40,000 people,” he said. “And if you ask those 40,000 people, or if you measure what those 40,000 people are doing, about 70 per cent of the folks who work for us today are … doing something that is designed exclusively for the cloud.”


Ballmer continues on to say about 90 per cent of those employees will be doing work that is entirely cloud-based, or cloud-inspired, by this time next year.


I’m sure many of the computer sciences students in attendance are kicking themselves for not majoring in cloud computing.


But all kidding aside, I’d really like to see the math behind those numbers.


Also, if Microsoft has all these resources and people dedicated to the cloud, why is the company still lagging behind in some very important cloud-related areas?


For Canadian enterprises specifically, Microsoft will have to start investing more than just people into their cloud strategy. Last October, at a Windows 7 launch event in Toronto, some customers expressed concern about using software such as Exchange in the cloud and having that data transferred across the border to the U.S.


In response, Ballmer promised the audience that Microsoft plans to build Canadian-based data centres in the future. I would assume this would be an issue for every IT shop outside of the U.S., so Microsoft would have to start building worldwide to truly take an enterprise cloud strategy global.


When talking about the company’s Azure cloud platform to the University of Washington students, even Ballmer admitted that it will take “some time before governments are comfortable with data existing outside of their jurisdiction.” I’d say the same goes for almost any medium to large enterprises.


Ballmer also said that Microsoft is literally betting the entire company on cloud computing, a bet that doesn’t seem so wise, considering Microsoft still has a lacklustre search engine and a failing mobile OS in its portfolio.


Both online search and the smart phone markets are crucial if Microsoft wants to become a truly dominant cloud company.


Ballmer did a good job highlighting the new mapping features on Bing, but because the search engine is so far behind Google in market share right now, I don’t think many online users will even hear about it. The company must somehow match Google’s search effectiveness and experience, which seems like an impossible task right now.


But even this task can be considered a walk in the park compared to the work Microsoft needs to do in the smart phone OS space.


In the not too distant future, smart phones will continue to evolve as a powerful computing device for many consumers and business users, maybe even something on par with their laptops or desktop PCs.


The smart phone might be the most important cloud-enabled device of the future, and not even Microsoft itself will argue that the company has fallen seriously behind in this space.


At this point, Microsoft is doing a fine job optimizing its Windows OS, its Office suite and Xbox for the cloud-powered environment. A case can even be made for Hyper-V, which will probably be a solid virtualization solution for the SMB space.


But with a lot of serious holes yet to be filled, the company should stop throwing out silly stats. We don’t care how many people it’s taking to become a cloud computing company, we only care what you’re doing to improve products and services like Bing, Azure and Windows Phone OS.

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