Microsoft's zeal for cloud computing reminds me a bit of the way that ex-smokers are often the keenest to deride the pernicious tobacco habit. I've become used to seeing people who used to puff through 30 cigarettes a day get all fidgety when they see someone with a fag and start sounding off about health hazards.

Just four years ago, it would have been unheard of for Microsoft to produce a long document about the economics of cloud computing. But times change: Steve Ballmer has told us many times that Microsoft's future lies in the cloud and now it's making the case to prove it.

It's telling that Microsoft has built its case on the economic benefits rather than the technical ones. The company must feel it's on surer ground here, appealing to business users who will be more convinced about profit and loss columns than they will be about esoteric details of virtual machine deployment. Microsoft does have a bit of a nerve droning on about the benefits of live migration across servers - something Hyper-V didn't offer until last year - again, it seems to smack of the keenness of the converted.

Microsoft's history, however is beside the point. It has done a very good job with the document itself. The cost advantages of deploying apps in the cloud are discussed at great length with every conceivable variable taken into account - these include variations in CPU usage according to the time of day, type of  industry, electricity costs and many more.

Right from the start, the company sets the tone for how earth-shattering the changes it's talking about are. It uses the example of the car for how a technology can have a disruptive effect on an economy and how even the motor industry was unsure where it was going, citing the inclusion of a horse-whip holder in the first automobile models as an example of how manufacturers were unsure of the way that the industry was going.

But isn't Microsoft guilty of the same thing? All its example are predicated on the idea that we will be working in the same way that we have been for the last 200 years, with the bulk of us people to workplaces to put in 9-to-5 days before going home. That world is changing: many of us are working from home, on the road, during the night or early morning - and of course, many companies are outsourcing to workers on other continents.

The Microsoft paper, while brimful with all sorts of stats about peak loads is schtum about changes in working structure , yet peak time as a concept could disappear altogether.  The document talks about working patterns - but that's using old-style concepts such as normal working-hours; what's to say that these will exist in 20 years time?

Will offices as we know them exist? We could be working in virtual workspaces where companies from a variety of industries work side by side: the insurance broker next to the engineer: the PR executive sitting next to the banker. Why not? If employees are logging on to applications in the cloud  then it might be more efficient to work where it's geographically convenient - if 100 people of different professions work in the same village, it may be more efficient for them to work in a local office - cheaper than travelling to the city and yet easier to provide technical support.

And what of the IT staff? Microsoft talks about the way that their roles will change in cloud deployment. "It represents an opportunity to break out of the longstanding tradition of IT professionals spending 80 percent of their time and budget ―keeping the lights on,‖ with few resources left to focus on innovation," the report says.

Will it though? A lot of the time IT professionals spend their time doing trivial tasks and it's fanciful to think that all of these will disappear within a cloud deployment, replacing a faulty cable or a hard drive is not going to be handled in the cloud. But then, employees could be using nothing but mobile devices or tablets by then and concepts such cables might be quite unknown. The world of work could change in ways that we simply can't imagine.

The point is that Microsoft, for all its talk about the future, is trying to solve 20 century problems with its cloud computing talk when it should be looking at 21st century ones. Its cloud world is the world that it should be leaving behind and it would be good to hear Microsoft's thoughts on that. Its talk of peak hours and busy months could soon seem as obsolete as the whip-holders that once adorned cars.

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