Countless industry studies have been published confirming something many of us already know -- content volume and diversity are increasing rapidly in organizations of all sizes. This rapid expansion along all dimensions is driving enterprises to adopt content management solutions to gain better control and visibility of their information. Increasingly, many of these organizations are selecting cloud-based platforms to flexibly handle content growth without the complexities of managing a highly available environment. Microsoft hopes that at least a portion of this growing market will select Azure to power their deployments. Will they?

A Late Cloud Play

Microsoft officially entered the cloud computing market early in 2010 with its platform-as-a-service (PaaS) offering, Windows Azure. Windows Azure was a latecomer to the cloud market, which already had a number of well-established players such as Amazon. Microsoft’s offerings align most closely with other PaaS offering such as Google App Engine, Amazon’s Elastic Beanstalk, CloudBees and VMWare’s Cloud Foundry. However, unlike these offerings, Azure offers deep support for .Net and Microsoft tooling that few other PaaS platforms can claim.

Nobody honestly expected Microsoft to fail. The company dominates the server market. According to IDC, Microsoft products accounted for 71% of second quarter server shipments for 2011. As these customers move to the cloud, many want the environment to feel just like home -- furnished with lots of Microsoft products and services. Microsoft doesn’t want to limit Azure to traditional Windows .Net developers. The platform also includes support for popular languages such as PHP, Ruby, Python and Java.

Despite the efforts of the software giant, positive rankings by analysts and the increase in use, the platform is still immature. This is likely one of the reasons that vendors have been moving slowly to offer products and services on the platform. Like consumer adoption, vendors are increasingly embracing Azure and adapting their solutions to operate on Azure.

Content Management in Microsoft’s Cloud

At least a few of the vendors moving forward on Windows Azure provide content management solutions. It makes sense. Content management is a great cloud use case. It has large storage needs. It frequently requires distribution. Deployment and managing patches and upgrades is complicated. A cloud-based content management deployment alleviates these concerns and allows users to focus on realizing their content strategy.

Interestingly, none of the mainstream content management vendors touting Windows Azure support actually “went all the way” with Azure by offering a subscription-based hosted product with Azure as the foundation. A number of other vendors are offering customers “Azure-ready” versions of their platforms. 

Some companies, such as Ektron, are integrating with Azure without providing true cloud-based version of their software. Ektron announced Ektron Windows Azure Edition at their conference. It is not, as the name might suggest, a version of Ektron deployed to the cloud. Instead, the software allows users to deploy a site to Windows more easily

Telerik’s CMS, Sitefinity, includes native support for Azure deployment. Sitecore offers a similar configuration with Sitecore CMS Azure Edition. Sitecore’s Azure-capable release keeps the user’s core and master Sitecore servers are deployed on-premise, but moves the public-facing Sitecore web servers to Azure. Sitecore depicted the model in what might be the highest-level infrastructure diagram ever



Kentico, which provides a content management tool and marketing suite targeted at non-technical users, is also Azure-ready. Unlike other vendors, there is no super-special Azure version; Kentico incorporated the features into the core product. When I asked Thomas Robbins, Chief Evangelist for Kentico, why it elected to make its product “Azure-ready” instead of targeting a lower-level cloud like the popular Amazon Web Services, Robbins said,

Windows Azure is a fantastic delivery mechanism for some of our customers. For us it's all about the customer choice in their infrastructure. As a Microsoft-based product we heard a lot of requests for it -- which is why we invested in the development of it. We have about 30 sites live on Azure.”

It’s not surprising that Microsoft shops are demanding more support for Azure, but it is surprising that none of these vendors has taken the extra step to provide a hosted solution as SpringCM or Nuxeo has done for non-Microsoft platforms. I think it’s a significant market gap.

For those of you who don’t care about commercial vendors, one of the most popular open-source content management solutions, Drupal, now works on Azure. Microsoft describes the process of getting Drupal 7 up and running on Azure in its Interoperability Bridges and Labs Center -- a site dedicated to interoperability between Microsoft and the rest of the world.

It will be interesting to see how the cloud market for Microsoft-centric content management solutions evolves. Are you a Microsoft shop leveraging a cloud-based content management solution or seeking one? We’d love to know your thoughts.