Microsoft just unleashed three long-anticipated secret weapons in the cloud wars

Microsoft scott guthrieStephen Lam/Getty ImagesMicrosoft Executive VP of Cloud and Enterprise Scott Guthrie

Microsoft is unveiling its latest arsenal in the cloud wars as it opens Ignite, one of the company’s largest customer conferences.

Microsoft is using the Orlando event to officially and formally release some much-anticipated new technology — an array of software and services that Microsoft sees as its secret weapon in the cloud wars with the market-leading Amazon Web Services.

Specifically, Microsoft is formally launching its SQL Server 2017 database software, an Oracle database migration tool, and finally, the ambitious Azure Stack “hybrid” cloud system.

None of these are freshly-announced products. But after much waiting, they’re officially available for Microsoft customers to buy. Here’s how Microsoft hopes these products will give it a leg up against Amazon Web Services and Google Cloud.

The database connection

SQL, pronounced “sequel,” is a common standard for databases, used by Microsoft, Oracle, and others.

SQL Server is one of Microsoft’s traditional cash cows — Microsoft databases can be found in data centres among the Fortune 500 and beyond. However, in recent years, it became clear that SQL Server’s popularity was waning. Developers increasingly preferred the Linux operating system, but SQL Server was only available for Windows.

So, last year, Microsoft took the unexpected step of announcing that SQL Server 2017 would be available for Linux, as well. Better yet, if you’re a bleeding-edge developer who wants to use Docker and its increasingly popular software containers, SQL Server would support that, too.

Satya Nadella LinuxMicrosoftMicrosoft CEO Satya Nadella

Microsoft’s hope is that SQL Server for Linux will stop existing customers from getting a wandering eye, while attracting new developers who may not have otherwise considered it. Still, given Microsoft’s history of fiercely competing with Linux, it’s a bold move.

Along those lines, Microsoft is also releasing on Monday a tool to take an existing SQL database — from Oracle, or others — and move it up into the Microsoft Azure cloud. This tool was originally announced in May of this year.

Amazon already released a tool like this, and found that tens of thousands of customers were ready to move up from companies like Oracle. It’s a sign that Microsoft is really pushing hard into databases, which should make competitors like about-to-go-public MongoDB nervous.

The hybrid story

Microsoft has long placed a lot of value on its existing inroads into the business software market. And the strategy was never more apparent than in May 2015, when the company announced Azure Stack, a set of products that let you build a version of the Microsoft Azure cloud in your own data center.

In July 2017, Azure Stack started to ship from Microsoft partners like Dell EMC, Lenovo, and HP Enterprise were available to order for September delivery. Well, it’s September, and Microsoft is announcing that those systems are out for delivery, if they’re not already there.

Azure is an internet-based service that gives you access to fundamentally unlimited pay-as-you-go supercomputing power, based in Microsoft’s globe-spanning data centres. But buy one or more of these Azure Stack systems and plug it into your data center, and it becomes a system that ostensibly works just like the “real” Azure.

Microsoft AzureMicrosoftMicrosoft Azure is a cloud computing service hosted out of massive Microsoft data centres like this one.

That’s important for companies that may not be willing or able to move their infrastructure into so-called public cloud platforms like Microsoft Azure, Amazon Web Services, or Google Cloud. Perhaps they’re in a highly-regulated industry like medicine, or maybe they’re just not ready to ditch the data center just yet.

“We’ve been talking about hybrid since the beginning of Azure,” said Microsoft Executive VP Scott Guthrie in a telecast to the media last week. “Every organisation out there has existing investments.”

Get the latest Microsoft stock price here.

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