At Monday's TechEd 2011 keynote event, Microsoft Corporate Vice President Robert Wahbe made his case for the software giant's embrace of cloud computing, noting that the company offered a unique blend of hosted, hybrid, and on premises solutions that the competition can't match. And he carted out a bewildering series of products to prove his point, with functionality that spans across operating systems, databases, management, security and identity, and virtualization.

"We're still early in the virtualization cycle, but the move to virtualization is setting us all up for a much bigger inflection point, the move to the cloud," Wahbe said. He then launched into a discussion of Microsoft's so-called public cloud products—Windows Azure, SQL Azure, Office 365, Microsoft Dynamics CRM, and Windows Intune—and private cloud solutions—Windows Server with Hyper-V, System Center—as well as all the servers and apps that run on top of those more traditional platforms.

The message was simple: While its competitors see cloud computing through a less inclusive lens, Microsoft has solutions that meet the needs of all businesses "If you can't use those capabilities in the cloud because of security concerns or regulatory reasons," Wahbe noted, "you can use them in your own data center." This, combined with a third, hybrid model that combines on premises servers with hosted services, provides an unprecedented—and unmatched—number of choices.

Microsoft's cloud offerings are quickly maturing, too, and are starting to offer a measure of parity with its more mature on premise offerings. The goal, I've been told, is for these products to work as identically as possible, regardless of where they're hosted, though this process could take a few years depending on the product in question. Office 365, for example, will launch this year and offer very close parity with the on premises products, but Windows Intune, as a new offering, may require a few years to catch up with System Center's more mature capabilities.