Steve Ballmer is not shy about switching out management of the Windows Azure group. First we saw Ray Ozzie leave Microsoft. He left after Windows Azure became part of Bob Muglia’s responsibilities. Now Muglia is no longer the executive Ballmer wants to run the Server & Tools Business (STB), the division that oversees Windows Azure. In turn, Muglia will also be leaving Microsoft after the transition to new leadership.

Ballmer’s new choice to lead STB depends on who has the experience to manage what the group sees as its main goals for the year ahead and beyond. It’s a critical decision. Ballmer has made the point often that the cloud represent Microsoft’s future.

A quick look at the jobs Microsoft has open in the STB group gives insight into what that future may look like. STB is arguably the fastest growing part of the company. In the past week alone, there have been about 100 new job listings for positions in the division. Muglia’s position is not listed there but you can see what kind of roles are being developed and the skill sets required to do the work. Matching those job descriptions to the direction of the group and you can start to see some patterns.

In particular, you see the leadership established by Muglia and Ozzie. Ozzie set the vision for Windows Azure and in many respect, Muglia served as its general, executing on the strategy.

Under their successful leadership, Azure has moved from a cloud platform to one that seeks to extend into the all devices, embedded in every aspect of our lives. It’s an approach that means Windows 7 and Windows Phone 7 devices will have a future tied to the cloud. Mobile proliferation, smart operating systems and distributed networks are trends that will last at least a decade. You can see the influence of these movements in multiple ways on the Windows Azure group.

Most of the positions we see on the Microsoft job search site are in software engineering. The team is also in need for people to do Web development, program management, consulting, operations, IT, marketing, research and sales. There are a few, though, that tell a larger story about Windows Azure future direction.

For example, a marketing management position gives deeper insights into how these trends play into the Azure strategy and what the new leader will need to do in order to succeed. The description is testament to the influence the Windows Azure leadership has had on the group’s direction. The description refers to a post by Ray Ozzie about the paradigm of continuous services and connected devices. If you will recall, we wrote last week about a Flickr app on Windows 7 and Windows Phone 7 that synchronizes, in particular for a smartphone or tablet device. We are told this will be an ongoing story for Microsoft in the year ahead.

Here’s the lead to a description for the marketing manager position:

Do you want to join one of the fastest growing and energized groups at Microsoft? Are you interested in Microsoft’s strategy for expanding Windows and the Cloud to Specialized Devices? These Specialized Devices range from in-car infotainment systems, Digital Signage, Enterprise Handheld, Point of Service, Thin Clients, Industrial Controllers, Server Appliances, Connected TV and more. The Windows Embedded Business is impacting a number of industry and vertical segments including Automotive, Retail, Medical, Industrial Automation, Energy, Safety and Surveillance, and Consumer Electronics. The devices and scenarios our product and service enable are at the forefront Ray Ozzie’s “Continuous services / Connected Devices” paradigm (see http://ozzie.net/docs/dawn-of-a-new-day for more).

From this we see a strategy that is moving off the PC and to the device. It plays into the need to develop services for the automobile, industrial equipment, consumer electronics and other devices.

R “Ray” Wang, principal analyst and CEO of the Constellation Group, said that Muglia has been instrumental in building out the Azure group. His absence will be greatly missed.

“Bob was instrumental in Microsoft building out its cloud strategy,” Wang said in an interview today. “A lot of the stuff he was doing on Azure was foundational to Microsoft’s future.”

From our perspective, this seems more like a cultural shift. The world of connected devices and synchronized continuous services may be better lead by someone who has had a deeper role in developing a new generation of technologies more suited to a distributed world than the one where the PC was the once and only king.

alex williams

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