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Microsoft Shields Azure Stack Hybrid Cloud Users from Patent Trolls

Azure hopes its expansion of open source patent protection to include on-premises as well as cloud use will help efforts to attract enterprise customers.

Hybrid clouds running Azure Stack on-premises are now included under Microsoft's patent indemnification program, Azure IP Advantage. When the program was first announced last February for users spending at least $1,000 monthly, Redmond only included use in its cloud. The program also wasn't retroactive. Users already involved in a patent-related legal dispute couldn't sign up for IP Advantage and get Microsoft's help.

All of those prerequisites are still in place; what's changed is the coverage has been expanded to cover on-prem use. As use of hybrid cloud architectures expands in the enterprise, Microsoft wants to make sure users of its highly strategic on-prem cloud infrastructure solution don't get exposed to IP litigation by putting it in their data centers.

The program is focused on open source software and offers protection if patent trolls -- otherwise known as non-practicing entities -- come calling. According to a blog posted by Microsoft when the program was first instituted, it offers "uncapped indemnification coverage" for "any open source technology that powers Microsoft Azure services, such as Hadoop." In addition, the program makes a portfolio of 10,000 Microsoft patents available for customers to use as a defensive weapon should IP legal issues arise.

"This portfolio has been ranked among the top three cloud patent portfolios worldwide," Azure Stack's director Natalia Mackevicius explained in a blog posted last week. "They can also rely on a royalty free springing license to protect them in the unlikely event Microsoft transfers a patent to a non-practicing entity."

In other words, if Microsoft sells a patent, it still can't be used against Azure customers.

The Open Invention Network has offered similar, but more limited, protection since 2005 for core components of Linux and other key open source projects that it calls the "Linux System." Organizations that pledge to not use their patent portfolio against the Linux System gain royalty-free access to a patent portfolio consisting of more than 1,200 global patents with an estimated value in the hundreds of millions of dollars to use in defense of patent lawsuits involving their use of the system.

While Microsoft's coverage is much more expansive, there are gaps that need to be considered. Last May, for example, Toronto-based intellectual property lawyer Barry Sookman pointed out that although the program will defend customers against claims and pay judgments and settlements, other losses that might result are not covered, and customers must waive rights to sue Microsoft for them. Even so, it has allowed big users with vulnerable deep pockets to breath a little easier while deploying open source on Azure.

Expanding the program to include the on-prem portion of Azure hybrid clouds only makes sense. Like other public clouds, Microsoft tries to make it easy for enterprise users to integrate their existing infrastructure with its cloud. This expansion helps remove a concern when workloads are being shifted back and forth between on-prem machines and Microsoft's cloud, a common practice in the agile world.

"As the cloud is often used for mission critical applications, considerations for choosing a cloud vendor are becoming wide-ranging and complex," Mackevicius said. "When they select Azure and Azure Stack, customers are automatically covered by Azure IP Advantage, the best-in-industry IP protection program, for their hybrid cloud workloads."

TAGS: Cloud Manage
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