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PaaS vs. IaaS: What's Microsoft's private cloud vision?

It’s hard to avoid the obvious cliche on this one: Microsoft’s private cloud messaging is getting very cloudy.

Back in July, at Microsoft’s Worldwide Partner Conference, all the talk was about Windows Azure and the company’s Platform as a Service-based approach to private cloud computing. Steve Ballmer talked about the “dramatic” difference between cloud computing and virtualization, and VP Robert Wahbe said Infrastructure as a Service was “just a feature” of a private cloud.

Those comments showed a major difference between Microsoft’s cloud strategy and VMware’s virtualization-centric, IaaS approach. And Microsoft was delivering a clear, consistent message.

That all changed last week, when we got some news about System Center Virtual Machine Manager 2012.

SCVMM 2012, as senior news writer Beth Pariseau reported, is all about the IaaS private cloud model. Some of its new features will include self-service portals, automated server provisioning and dynamic load balancing. We’re talking classic IaaS stuff right there.

So what happened in the five months since the WPC?

Wahbe acknowledged in July that IaaS is where the market is these days, but he and other Microsoft execs seemed much more focused on their long-range vision at the time. PaaS and Windows Azure still may be their private cloud endgame, with the goal of SCVMM 2012 being to shore up the IaaS “feature.” (That’s something Microsoft desperately needed to do to stay competitive with VMware, by the way.)

But if PaaS and Windows Azure are still the endgame, you’d think Microsoft would tout them more when talking about SCVMM 2012. Sure, the company spent a lot of time on Azure at the Professional Developer’s Conference in Dublin this month, but there’s been nary a word on how the IaaS capabilities in SCVMM 2012 will tie in.

Cloud computing is confusing enough as it is for customers, many of whom are still trying to wrap their heads around basic server virtualization. It doesn’t do anyone any favors to talk about PaaS and Azure at the WPC and PDC, then talk about IaaS at TechEd Europe without saying how they’ll all work together.

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