We have seen it more than a few times before: Microsoft jumping into a new market already forged by many of its enterprise competitors, hoping to deliver lower-cost, alternative solutions. This time, it is Microsoft making a big deal out of big data.
At its PASS Summit this week Microsoft said it would deliver an implementation of Apache Hadoop for Windows Server and Azure sometime in 2012, with the help of Hortonworks, a Yahoo spinoff. In concert with this plan, the company said it would wire up SQL Server 2012 (“Denali”) to work with Hadoop as well. Hadoop is an open source framework that allows for the distributed processing of large data sets among clusters of computers.
The moves make sense given Microsoft’s renewed strategic ambitions to go after the upper reaches of corporate IT. Last month the company showed off Windows Server 8, which is chock full of enterprise-class cloud, virtualization, clustering and storage and systems management capabilities to handle dozens of servers as if they were one system.
To me, Windows Server 8 looks like a pretty solid foundation on which to build enterprise-class infrastructure and applications to let Fortune 500 shops do sophisticated analytics on massive amounts of structure and, more importantly, unstructured data. Microsoft, this time, seems intent on lining up the pieces needed to play with big data’s big boys.
Those big boys, IBM, Oracle, EMC, SAP and even Hewlett Packard, have already started delivering individual products and/or solutions to help corporate shops better control and extract meaning from the flood of information contained in social media feeds, e-mails and documents.
These are companies that have long catered to larger IT shops that have in turn sunk billions into buying products and services they rely on to be successful. These shops will be rather reluctant to toss out even smaller technology pieces dedicated to handling big data, in favor of technologies from Microsoft, which many IT shops wouldn’t mention in the same breathe with the words “enterprise class.”
But then, this is Microsoft we are talking about. A company that succeeded in markets where initially it had to come from way back in the pack: CRM, SharePoint, Exchange and the Xbox (although not too many enterprise accounts care about the latter – not during office hours anyway).
It’s long established that it take Microsoft three tries to succeed with many of the core products that flourish today. I am not sure Microsoft has the luxury to fail a couple of times before it can break into the big data market, but that depends on how effectively the other big data boys can maintain their technology lead.
Another issue, particularly among loyal Microsoft’s users in the smaller shops: why spend so much sweat and treasure pursuing yet-to-be realized opportunities in new, higher-end markets when they could be better serving core SMB customers with more effective solutions?
This could be a legitimate question Microsoft should answer. Do you think Microsoft should be aggressively pursuing big data opportunities or should it remain focused on better serving the needs of smaller enterprises? Let me know: firstname.lastname@example.org.