microsoft-wordpress-cloud-automattic-blogs-azureAt the Microsoft (MSFT) Professional Developers Conference on Tuesday, company CTO Ray Ozzie (pictured) took the stage to chat about his company's latest effort in cloud computing. Called WindowsAzure, this new Microsoft offering will allow companies to write code on a cloud-based operating system that runs in Microsoft data centers. After a year of testing, Azure is slated to go live in January, with paying customers coming aboard in February.

Microsoft is playing catchup in the cloud realm. Amazon (AMZN) and Google (GOOG) have both been running live cloud-computing offerings for over a year and have gained considerable traction with Internet companies and IT organizations seeking to avoid the limitations of physical servers, hardware maintenance and static bandwidth contracts. The big surprise that Ozzie unveiled, however, wasn't technological. It was actually a customer: Automattic, the hot software and blog hosting company that is behind the highly popular WordPress platform.
Automattic founder and CEO Matt Mullenweg took the stage with Ozzie to talk about why he chose to use Azure for distributed hosting for WordPress and the millions of blogs its customers have online. Automattic is known as a strong advocate of Open Source technology. Mullenweg has built WordPress to run primarily atop Open Source software such as the Linux operating system, the MySQL database and the Apache Web server. Yet there he was onstage with Ozzie plugging Microsoft. Huh?

Well, it sure seems like Microsoft has gotten its mojo back; perhaps the worm has finally turned for the beaten-down Redmond giant. Early indications from the Windows 7 launch are that it's going to be a smash for Microsoft and CEO Steve Ballmer. Wall Street analysts have been upgrading the stock, and it has hit 52-week highs. Now, it looks like Ozzie and his team of propeller heads have finally gotten the future of Microsoft as an on-demand software and services juggernaut cleaned up and ready for public consumption.

As one of the early leaders at Lotus back when that company was setting the standard for collaboration tools, Ozzie has long enjoyed cult hero status among coders, techies and venture capitalists. And he has been viewed within Microsoft as the cloud maestro, the man who has pushed strongly to move the Redmond behemoth beyond its boxed-software mentality and into a future realm where very little software runs on PCs. Rather, all software will run remotely on the Internet in a data center -- in the cloud, so to speak.

Cloud-computing revenues have remained scant compared to earthly revenues from software licenses and sales of servers and data storage gear. Amazon, probably the leader in cloud-computing services, is on track to do only $200 million in cloud service revenues in 2009, according to cloud computing blog Cloudscaling. That's out of a total expected revenue pool of more than $20 billion during that period.

But the global pool of cloud-computing service revenue is somewhere north of $17 billion between various providers, according to tech tracker IDC. And if cloud computing, like most other IT sectors, consolidates down to a handful of vendors in a short span of time, then Microsoft could be well positioned to get a nice chunk of what IDC says will nearly triple into a $44 billion market within four years. The upshot? Microsoft could end up hitting on all cylinders, with its server and desktop software business lines benefiting from a big IT refresh in the next few years, and its efforts to tap the cloud -- and nail down customers like Automattic -- yielding both big revenues and a return to the spotlight as a serious growth machine with legs and a stock chart to match.

Alex Salkever is Senior Writer at AOL Daily Finance covering technology and greentech. Follow him on twitter @alexsalkever, read his articles, or email him at alex@dailyfinance.com

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