By Rory Cellan-Jones

Microsoft to battle in the clouds

Microsoft has unveiled a cloud computing service, in which data and applications will not be stored on individuals’ computers.

For consumers, there is the prospect of a future where much of their data and many of the applications they use could be stored online “in the cloud”.

The new platform, dubbed Windows Azure, was announced at Microsoft’s Professional Developers Conference in Los Angeles.

The platform was described by Microsoft’s chief software architect Ray Ozzie as “Windows for the cloud”.

The framework will be offered alongside the next Windows release, Windows 7.

The aim is to allow developers to build new applications which will live on the internet, rather than on their own computers.

Microsoft believes consumers will also want to store far more of their data – from letters to photos to videos – on the servers in its “cloud” of giant data centres around the world, so that it can be accessed anywhere, from any device.

The move, which Microsoft sees as a major shift in its corporate strategy, was unveiled in front of 6,000 software developers from around the world.

The term cloud computing has become increasingly fashionable, as companies with large data centres start renting out space to businesses wanting to build rapidly growing online applications without needing to invest in more servers as traffic grows.

Google, dominant in search and in online advertising, already has a suite of online applications living in the “cloud”. Sam Schillace, who runs Google Docs, says he is not worried by the arrival of a big new rival.

“Competition, even stiff competition from Microsoft doesn’t bother us because it will either make the internet as a whole better or it will be irrelevant to making it better.”

Fast-moving clouds

Amazon, with big data centres handling millions of e-commerce transactions, has been another pioneer in this field, with its Elastic Cloud Service.

Using the spare capacity on its servers, it allows a range of customers big and small – from Facebook application developers to the Washington Post – to build applications which can cope with a sudden rush of demand.

In his speech in Los Angeles, Ray Ozzie said he “tipped his hat” at Amazon for its work in this field,

“We believe deeply in on-premises software and we believe deeply in this new world of software in the cloud,” said Ray Ozzie [Microsoft].

the scene is set for a battle in the clouds between the few big companies wealthy enough to be able to build the huge data centres on which this new form of computing will depend.

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