Ray Ozzie is a big believer in the cloud. But he knows that large businesses don't yet share his confidence.
"Enterprises will not really trust the cloud until they get some experience with it," Ozzie said, during a speech at a J.P. Morgan investment conference in Boston on Wednesday. He said that large businesses are more likely to start by going with an online version of a familiar product like Microsoft Exchange than they are today to move a major piece of their business into the cloud. A Webcast of his speech is available on Microsoft's investor relations page.
In October, Microsoft announced Windows Azure, a set of tools that is somewhat akin to a Web-based operating system that developers can use to build software that can then run in Microsoft's data centers. The software is now in testing, with large businesses mostly just kicking the tires at this point.
"In the next year or two I believe that the biggest impact of cloud computing is going to be in things like Exchange and SharePoint for us or those comparable offerings from our competitors," Ozzie said. Using one of those services allows a company to know how much bandwidth they need to communicate with the cloud, understand how cloud services can be managed, as well as just build up a certain comfort level.
"It will work its way into other parts of the enterprise IT environment over time as they get their comfort level," he said.
One of the lighter moments came when Ozzie was asked what were the lessons Microsoft learned from Windows Vista.
"How much time do you have?" Ozzie quipped.
Ozzie then went on to discuss some of the problems with Vista, including the false starts that he said resulted from "overcommitment."
"We had a vision that was larger than what we could achieve within the period of time that we needed to bring (the product) to market," Ozzie said.
And by changing its timing and feature set, Ozzie noted that Microsoft's partners were both too early and too late when it came to deciding when to spend time on Vista.
"If we don't give very clear predictable signals to those partners...about dates," Ozzie said, "they don't know when to invest and when not to invest."
The result, he said, was that drivers weren't ready, leaving PC makers in a tough position and ultimately creating a less-than-satisfactory experience for consumers and businesses. Many of those issues, he said, were taken to heart when it came to planning and communicating around Windows 7, he said.
Some of Ozzie's more intriguing comments came when he talked about the need for partnership over time as Microsoft builds out its cloud. So far, Microsoft has built its own data centers, but they have largely been in the U.S. Because of varying regulations in different countries, though, Ozzie talked about the need for data centers "everywhere on earth."
"Every country will have data centers," he said, but added that Microsoft itself doesn't have the resources to build a cloud in each country. "We have to have partners."