Have you seen the latest Microsoft advertising blitz, “To The Cloud!”?  It is hard to have missed, at least here in the USA, where Microsoft has bought a lot of air time.

Each “To the Cloud!” ad shows off a scenario in which a Windows Live application comes to the rescue to save a “normal person” in such common tasks as photo editing and collaboration.

Have you also seen the Windows Phone 7 ads, in which people using other mobile devices are working madly on their mobile phones while life passes them by, and a friend, family member, colleague, or stranger can’t believe just how oblivious the mobile phone user is, and asks, “Really?”

So let’s put those two ad campaigns together and ask: “To the Cloud!... Really?”  and let’s see what that means.

First, let me commend Microsoft for creating two ad campaigns that are actually worthy of discussion in the first place. I really enjoyed the “Really?” campaign, as did my iPhone-toting friends… they “get” that their social habits and phone etiquette are worthy of mocking.

I also like the “To The Cloud!” ads because they demonstrate that Microsoft, finally, has gained the ability to sell absolutely nothing substantive in an advertisement—to be completely slick and show, like their consumer-space competitors. 

The most interesting substantive content in the ads is not Windows Live, but the hardware that is shown, like the beautiful Dell Inspiron Duo.  But the ads are eye catching and memorable.  Bravo, Microsoft!

Now, to our substance… the cloud.  Microsoft is “all about” the cloud this year. Many Microsoft managers are being score-carded on metrics related to adoption of cloud services such as Business Productivity Online Suite and Office 365, so they care about the cloud. 

Their compensation and career paths are likely to hinge on whether you adopt the cloud or not.

So Microsoft really, really wants you to go “To The Cloud!”  And, honestly, I’m optimistic that Office 365—the version of BPOS that will include all of the 2010 versions of Exchange, Lync, SharePoint, and Office—will be a truly compelling service. 

My guess is it will be a no brainer for small and medium sized businesses, and should be a serious consideration for large enterprises.

I know some large businesses for whom the total cost of ownership for e-mail servers is well over $10 per inbox.  That’s more than the retail cost of Office 365 mailboxes! And Office 365 not only offers lower prices, it offers phenomenal levels of service and features, including support for gigantic inboxes.

That’s just for Exchange.  SharePoint Online—part of Office 365—will allow us to more easily share files with external customers, vendors, and partners, thanks to a tight integration with Windows Live ID. 

And it will support custom code, thanks to SharePoint 2010’s Sandboxed Solutions feature. The value proposition gets better and better.

But there’s a rub (or two). First, Office 365 isn’t even real yet.  It’s in Beta. 

The push “To The Cloud” is pushing us to water-vaporware.  By the time Office 365 is real, it’s going to be far too late for organizations to evaluate it and make the (significant) decision to invest resources in migrating “To The Cloud!” before the end of Microsoft’s fiscal year on June 30th.

Second, most of the organizations with which I work (large, Fortune-caliber corporate, academic, and government customers) are so busy with other major initiatives including Windows 7 deployments, Active Directory upgrades and clean-ups, and on-premises email and SharePoint projects that they don’t have the bandwidth to dedicate to evaluating the cloud. 

They can’t take the time to just sit back and look at the clouds… get it?

I think Microsoft is more than a little ahead-of-the-curve here--which should perhaps be commended since the company is typically behind the curve.

Microsoft is taking what I think are very thoughtful, practical, significant steps toward achieving its vision of Software Plus Services, in which cloud services have feature parity with on-premises services, giving enterprises the maximum flexibility for deployment of capabilities balanced with management and security. 

I must give a special shout out to the recent announcements of products that will allow customers to host an on-premises cloud.  Very smart!  Because I believe “the cloud” isn’t really about where things are hosted, it’s about architecture and services and distribution and integration of those services.

Perhaps taking some of the “geographic location” issues out of the discussion will help companies focus on that fact.

The part of “the cloud” that is about where things are hosted is about SLAs and costs—it’s another term for “outsourcing.”  That discussion is perennial, but the architecture discussion is fascinating and laden with opportunity.

Some of Microsoft’s customers are clearly there and they get it, which is great. 

But a much larger number won’t be ready to go to the cloud for another year or two.  They’re busy.  They’re confused.  They hear about the cloud and ask, “Really?”  

My fear is that when Microsoft’s employees don’t hit their cloud-based metrics—through no fault of their own—that Microsoft might give up, change focus, or reassign people, when actually they’re heading in the right direction.

I hope they continue to innovate, lead, and light the way to the cloud while the rest of us catch up.

I, for one, am really looking forward to lighting up my cloud with Office 365 in the coming weeks of beta.  Really!

Read more about SharePoint and the Cloud, Office 365, and even Azure: