With all the focus on Windows 7, Microsoft’s Monday announcement that it was entering the world of cloud computing seemed to come out of nowhere. Azure is the foundation of the Azure Services platform, which Microsoft says will make the development of cloud applications simple. The release was announced at Microsoft’s Professional Developers Conference in Los Angeles. Despite recent high-profile pronouncements by Richard Stallman, Larry Ellison, and Microsoft’s Steve Ballmer companies like Amazon and Google are showing the potential for cloud computing.

Azure is both an OS and applications. "There are a lot of problems out there that are not being solved and they are not being solved for one reason: People are taking software built for on-premises and they are dumping it in the cloud. What we have done is to help build software for the cloud," said Doug Hauger, general manager of Microsoft’s cloud infrastructure services.

IDC announced last week that it expected spending on cloud computing to increase 16 percent a year, reaching $42 billion in 2012. "[T]he next three years, as IT cloud services expand from Early Adopters to the Early Majority, is the critical time to develop strong cloud offerings, and play a leadership role in bringing customers, your own organization and your partner ecosystem 'across the chasm,'" says IDC’s blog.

Azure will reach the market in 2009; pricing plans have yet to be released.

As with anything Microsoft nowadays, the announcement was met with controversy. Azure was seen as underwhelming by some, a "last ditch effort" by others.

Chris Mellor of The Register believes that the nascent cloud computing industry thinks that by 2012, there will be 3 million fewer business buying servers as they move their storage to the cloud. "A mass take-up of cloud computing will be a disaster for the storage industry as we know it," he writes.

By Mark Alvarez