Photograph by Stephen Lam — Getty Images
By Barb Darrow
July 10, 2015

While Microsoft (MSFT) corporate dealt with big layoffs and charges related to its phone business this week, the Azure cloud group was all business.

It launched a series of new products in advance of next week’s Microsoft Worldwide Partner Conference where chief executive officer Satya Nadella and cloud boss Scott Guthrie will try to convince tens of thousands of Microsoft resellers and systems integrators that they should help customers move work to the Azure cloud.

On Friday, for example, the company said its revamped PowerBI service, which will allow people to query data sets using natural language requests, will be broadly available on July 24,

Also available that day will be Power BI Desktop, formerly known as Power BI Designer (Microsoft, why must you confuse us this way?) which targets business analysts who need to pull data from many sources, clean it up and normalize it so it can be pooled and parsed.

PowerBI is meant to be sort of the cloud analogue to what Excel has become on the desktop—the de facto standard data analytics tool. Oh, and to pre-empt data analytics pushes by cloud rivals Google(GOOG) and Amazon (AMZN)

On Monday, Microsoft will provide a sneak peek of a new Azure data catalog. This, is “a fully managed service that stores, describes, indexes and provides information on how to access any registered data source,” according to a blog post by Joseph Sirosh, Microsoft corporate vice president of information management and machine learning. “It closes the gap between those seeking information and those producing it.”

And there’s more. Azure Batch software to automate the scheduling of big computing jobs on the Microsoft cloud, is now available. As are new features for Azure Site Recovery that, in theory, will make it easier to manage workloads across Microsoft, AWS, and VMware (VMW)environments. And, oh by the way, make it easier to move those workloads from AWS and/or VMware to Azure.

Amazon and VMware offer their own versions of these tools. All of these players preach the kumbaya vision of cross-cloud cooperation and hybrid-cloud goodness, while they also plot to steal customers from the other guys. Same as it ever was.

One of the hurdles Microsoft faces is convincing this audience that partners can make money by helping customers into Azure. Many partners, some of which used to sell hosted Microsoft services on their own, see vendor-owned-and-operated clouds as a threat to their well being.

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