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Feature Microsoft is advancing non-Microsoft service providers as a core part of its Cloud OS strategy. In part one of this series I looked at what Cloud OS was and why you might care about using it on your own premises.

This article will examine how those service providers fit into the equation.

To be clear, "service providers" in the Microsoft context means companies running the Microsoft stack of software and providing services to customers over the internet. Previously we might have called these hosting providers, while the new industry generic term is cloud service providers, or CSPs.

Get used to that one because CSPs are the new black and everyone is courting them. The software and hardware markets used to be broken down roughly into SMB, enterprise and government.

Now it is CSP, enterprise and government. SMBs who choose not to buy into cloud computing are unlikely to get much love from anyone.

Little and large

CSPs are a diverse category of businesses. They range from the small IT consultant offering some basic off-site backups to their clients over the internet to full-bore managed service providers such as Metacloud.

CSP also covers hosting providers like OVH and Peer 1's bucket brigade as well as more narrowly focused providers such as EasyDNS.

Basically, a CSP does "something involving computers on the internet". The definition does not encompass the tier-1 providers such as Amazon, Google or Microsoft. Those are in a league of their own and are typically what is meant when people talk about the public cloud.

This all gets rather taxonomically messy, like anything involving cloud, because some people consider CSPs to be those that host their own infrastructure, while others don't care whose infrastructure CSPs use so long as they buy software licences at scale.

The Microsoft terminology behind "service provider", however, is important to our poor, beleaguered SMB admins. As the industry shifts, their jobs are drying up and many of them are transitioning to other roles, for example going from being a sysadmin running one company to one running many companies.

These sysadmins usually stand up their own infrastructure at the local co-lo and provide services to their stable of customers. Here, then, is the entry to the Microsoft service provider, scaling up all the way to the kinds of businesses that do VDI for governments.

Follow the brand

Building your own Microsoft-based IaaS cloud is easy enough; you can even automate that portion of the exercise, if you wish. System Center even offers you the basics required to create a platform-as-a-service setup.

Where it really comes together is with Windows Azure Services for Windows Server (WASWS). (Microsoft, please find the committee members responsible for this product name and banish them to an office in Siberia.)

When you put Windows Server, System Center and the Windows Azure Pack together you get WASWS for hosting service providers as well as for your own private cloud.

This gives you an Azure portal for your developers and end users. It takes a fair amount of effort to get set up, but once you have some orchestration bits done, your templates ready and so forth, you have created a service that provides an end-user experience indistinguishable from Microsoft's publicly hosted Azure cloud.

The whole branding exercise around this is a crime against tech marketing. So let's wrap it all up for better ease of understanding and (much to Microsoft Marketing's dismay whenever I use the term} call this combo "Azure on premises" and "Azure service provider."

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