Enterprise customers can now connect to Microsoft's cloud platform, Windows Azure, through an AT&T virtual private networking technology, in a deal announced this week by AT&T and Microsoft.
Enterprise customers will get entry into Microsoft's cloud platform using a link from AT&T that leverages AT&T's multi-protocol label switching (MPLS) technology.
The new partnership comes at a time when roping in favorable security protection for enterprise-scale information flows is a key concern for businesses. In this case, business users will be using virtual private network (VPN) technology from AT&T as their lines to Microsoft's Windows Azure. The September 18 announcement sets the date for the service to go live in the first half of 2014.
A technical advantage for customers is that they will leverage MPLS-based VPNs from AT&T to access their Azure services. According to research firm Forrester Research, 70 percent of multinationals use MPLS. This is a technology that can serve enterprise needs for a way to connect multiple office locations seamlessly. Offices working in a shared network bring advantages in cost and bandwidth usage.
In June, Steven Martin, general manager of Windows Azure, said that in the enterprise cloud space, over 50 percent of the Fortune 500 were using Windows Azure. This month's deal with AT&T can increase the allure of Azure as a cloud platform of choice.
Andy Geisse, CEO, AT&T Business Solutions, believes AT&T VPN can help. "By bringing the security and performance of our virtual private network to Windows Azure, we expect to energize enterprise demand for Azure infrastructure-as-a-service."
In the bigger picture, an AT&T MPLS network connecting with Windows Azure reflects business interest in making sure connections in the cloud are secure as well as fast and reliable. Satya Nadella, Microsoft executive vice president of Cloud and Enterprise, added in the announcement: "It's critical we help enterprises embrace the cloud on their terms."
The companies' press announcement noted that "Enterprises continue to cite concerns about security and reliable performance in their decision to adopt cloud computing. Working together, Microsoft and AT&T will address these concerns by enabling enterprise customers to quickly and reliably connect applications and services from their own centers (private clouds) to the Windows Azure cloud service using the protective confines and high transmission speeds of a highly-secure virtual private network."
More Handshakes Ahead?
Outside the two companies, business watchers spot what could be an interesting trend in how cloud providers and network providers may strike up more discussions on partnerships. The win for carriers would be in beefing up their roles in making enterprise cloud setups more efficient.
The AT&T and Microsoft pact is also seen as a competitive challenge to Amazon's Direct Connect, which gives companies entry into Amazon Web Services through a VPN.