Back in the early 2000s, the financial analysts at Amazon expressed frustration that much of their spare server capacity went unused for the majority of the time. A group of engineers were tasked with exploring how they might sell the use of their servers to others — and thus history lurched forwards — “the cloud” was invented.

While Amazon wrestled with their accidental creation, aided and abetted by an army of Web 2.0 application developers, a series of chess moves were happening deep within Microsoft that are still shaping and changing the way we work today.

Microsoft had built their business on the sale of licenses for operating systems and office software. Having done battle with IBM, Apple, Lotus, Wordperfect, and Wordstar, they reached a curious plateau — where those that needed their software already had it, and the effort (and cost) involved in re-inventing their various wheels increasingly became a game of negative returns.

Microsoft desperately needed to change the game, but of course Microsoft is Microsoft. Historically, they have never been innovators — they didn’t invent the disk operating system, the windowed operating system, or even the office applications that made them famous — they copied others, and iterated relentlessly.

The technology world watched Amazon with envious eyes — not because Amazon had created a ground-breaking product — but because through re-selling the use of infrastructure, Amazon had lucked into the subscription service model — which soon became divorced entirely from hardware through virtualisation. “Software as a Service” had been born.

It took Microsoft the better part of a decade to catch up — not least because the products their customers rely on had never been designed to run as headless services. Entire platforms had to be re-imagined from the ground up — while millions of people were still using them. It doesn’t help that people typically don’t like change.

We finally appear to be there though. Microsoft called their new world “Azure”, and after a number of re-inventions, and re-imaginings, is now a mature platform. Azure has become an enormous ecosystem of integrated systems. It’s success has become such that there are rumors of the Windows desktop operating system being deprecated entirely : released as a free product, or replaced by a Linux powered simulcra — the same slight of hand Apple performed with OSX.

What started perhaps ten years ago as a trickle of early adopters has become an exodus — of corporate server farms moving to the cloud. The math isn’t difficult either — where software as a service requires subscriptions and power users, server farms require architects, administrators, licenses, consultants, specialists, developers, and more — not to mention hardware, disaster recovery plans, and the relentless bleed of depreciating assets.

Despite the benefits, many organisations continue to distrust the security and privacy of data stored anywhere outside of infrastructure they own and control. Virtualisation has provided a first step into the new world for many, affording agility in the use of hardware, but at the expense of many of the benefits of the cloud.

For the rest, the journey is just beginning — dismantling historic infrastructure, systems, and solutions piece by piece, and migrating them to the new normal. They join a growing community of organisations that were born to the new world — that have never known a server room. It’s a strange thought.

In many ways it’s a privilege to be witness to the world changing — to know the old, and embrace the new — to see such progress, and so many opportunities unfold before us.