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If there was one theme that Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella consistently emphasized during his keynote at last week’s Microsoft Inspire conference, it was how critical Microsoft’s Common Data Model will be in ultimately differentiating them as a cloud service provider.

The Common Data Model is essentially a system of metadata that is consistently applied across multiple applications and business processes that breaks down the silos that have historically isolated applications from one another. It achieves that goal by including a set of standardized, extensible data schemas that define entities, attributes, semantic metadata, and relationships within an application. As it exists today, the Common Data Model is embedded within the Microsoft Dynamics 365 suites of business applications.

However, Microsoft intends to extend the reach of the Common Data Model across both its applications as well as third-party applications. Both Adobe Systems and SAP have already signed on to embrace a future instance of a Common Data Model, dubbed the Open Data Initiative, that will eventually be applied across all their applications as well. 

As a complement to that effort, Microsoft has also invested in Microsoft Graph, an application programming interface (API) that provides a single endpoint to invoke Microsoft Office 365 applications. Microsoft Graph, coupled with the Common Data Model, provides Microsoft with two capabilities that rival cloud service providers such as Amazon Web Services (AWS) are unlikely to match any time soon.

Almost every application or use case Nadella cited last week revolved around the ability to access data stored in the Microsoft Azure cloud. For example, Nadella showcased how using Microsoft PowerApps, a set of rapid application development tools, will enable organizations to leverage the Common Data Model to quickly create a wide range of applications that all share access to a common pool of data residing on Microsoft cloud services.

In fact, Nadella predicted that within the next five years, 500 million new applications will be developed. Microsoft is betting that a very large percentage of those applications will be built on the Azure platform.

Microsoft’s plans moving forward

As part of this effort, Microsoft is transforming both Microsoft Dynamics 365 and Microsoft Office 365 into full-fledged application development platforms. Alongside the core application development services Microsoft provides on Azure, developers will have the option of either building an application from the ground up or extending the suite of applications Microsoft already provides. To achieve that goal Microsoft is steadily transforming both suites of applications into sets of microservices that developers can invoke using a standard set of tools and APIs.

Put it altogether and it becomes clear how Microsoft envisions being able to dominate the next era of cloud computing. Rather than simply trying to compete based on infrastructure services, Microsoft views infrastructure services as a mean to a much larger end. It’s unclear to what degree organizations will buy into that vision, but the truth is many of them are going to wake up one day to discover just how dependent they have become on various Microsoft data services.

In the meantime, managed service providers (MSPs) should pay close attention to precisely what Microsoft is trying to accomplish because the next era of cloud computing now represents a battle for control over the heart and soul of IT.

Photo: Vadim Georgiev / Shutterstock

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Mike Vizard

Posted by Mike Vizard

Mike Vizard has covered IT for more than 25 years, and has edited or contributed to a number of tech publications including InfoWorld, eWeek, CRN, Baseline, ComputerWorld, TMCNet, and Digital Review. He currently blogs for IT Business Edge and contributes to CIOinsight, The Channel Insider, Programmableweb and Slashdot. Mike blogs about emerging cloud technology for Smarter MSP.

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