What could Microsoft want with a domain that means 'cloud?'

The discovery that Microsoft has not only registered but is currently running servers under the domain name "kumo.com" has people wondering today whether a rebranding of its cloud-based services is in the works.

We've heard some talk in recent days about this "cloud" thing that Microsoft's been playing with. Maybe you've seen or read something having to do with the company's cloud services for business users, as well as its ambitious system for hosting .NET apps on a platform being given the brand Windows Azure.

Microsoft said that not only does it plan to build more cloud services for consumers, but that it also plans to expand its presence in Asia Pacific, so it should only make sense to register the name "Kumo" -- a word that dictionaries say could either mean "spider" or "cloud" in Japanese. This morning, a tracert on the domain name revealed that the route broaches the realm of Microsoft at about hop #18 -- MICROSOFT-C.car1.Seattle1.Level3.net -- before entering the msn.net domain for three hops, and thereafter disappearing into a foggy, cloudy abyss. Web page requests to kumo.com are met with an "Access Denied" message. "Kumo" became the topic of speculation last August, when our friend and colleague Mary Jo Foley reported that Kumo was one of three test names that Microsoft was bandying about, for undisclosed reasons. At the time, Foley speculated that Microsoft could have been testing Kumo, among other names, as a possible replacement brand for its existing Windows Live services.

In our tests, a tracert on Windows Live's current home page, home.live.com, took a similar route, reaching the New York-based equivalent of Level3 Communications' bridge at hop 18, before entering into the msn.net domain and then disappearing. The fact that live.com went through New York and kumo.com through Seattle may be inconsequential, as Microsoft is capable of balancing its traffic loads across the continent anyway; so that distinction alone does not disprove Foley's theory.

But the prospects seem at least equally reasonable for "Kumo" to become a platform-neutral, Microsoft-owned brand for cloud-based services. Conceivably, some services that are currently being offered under the Windows Live umbrella, such as cloud-based storage and file sharing, could either be rolled into a "Kumo" banner or offered separately and simultaneously under "Kumo." Meanwhile, "Windows Live" could co-exist as a set of services for Windows users in particular. However, the fact that "kumo" also means "spider" (in the way "Lycos" meant "spider," albeit in another language) remains curiously intriguing.

BetaNews has presented Microsoft with a truckload of questions on this issue, and we've been told to expect a response to them later today.

Update banner (stretched)

3:10 pm EST November 24, 2008 - Yes, we got a response; no, it wasn't the one we wanted. Essentially we were told by Microsoft spokespersons that the company doesn't comment on rumors or speculation. Given the nature of our questions, it suggests there's some serious activity surrounding the "Kumo" domain name.

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