Microsoft Azure Platform moves Windows to Compute Cloud

Microsoft is promoting Cloud computing as a follow-on to service-oriented architecture. At its Professional Developer Conference (PDC) in Los Angeles, company technology strategist Ray Ozzie said Azure will support SQL Server and the .NET Framework. He said the open platform could support frameworks and languages such as Eclipse and PHP as well.

Los Angeles, Calif. [UPDATE] – Microsoft moves Windows into the compute Cloud with today's announcement of the Azure Cloud Platform at its Professional Developer Conference (PDC) at the Los Angeles Convention Center. Indications are Microsoft is promoting Cloud computing as a follow-on to service-oriented architecture.

The Cloud needs a platform built to scale out from the beginning.
Bob Muglia
senior vice presidentServer and Tools Business (STB)

Azure is described as a version of the Windows operating system aimed at distributed Cloud computing. It includes a .NET Services Bus that takes on the role of an enterpirse service bus.

"The cloud is different," said Ray Ozzie, Chief Software Architect at Microsoft, in his keynote unveiling the Azure Platform which is using the existing Microsoft technology including the .NET framework and SQL Server.

Bob Muglia, senior vice president of the Server and Tools Business (STB), compared the release of Azure to the 1992 introduction of Windows NT and said Azure will introduce a "fifth generation of computing" going beyond service-oriented architecture.

SOA is limited in its ability to scale, Muglia argued, whereas Microsoft's approach to the Cloud is built to scale.

"The Azure Services Platform builds on SOA but has fundamental difference," he asserted. "SOA doesn't scale well. The Cloud needs a platform built to scale out from the beginning."

Ozzie and Muglia reassured the developers in the audience that all the tools they are used to working with will be part of Azure. In keeping with the services perspective of Azure, developers in the future will be working with ".NET Services" to build applications interacting with "SQL Service in the Cloud," Muglia said.

A preview edition of Azure is being made available to attendees at this week's PDC and the community preview edition will be expanded to include the larger Microsoft developer community in coming weeks and months. Input from the developer community will be included in the evolving product, which the executive characterized as a work in progress.

"We will bring more and more of our key apps onto Windows Azure," Ozzie said. "It will be our way of hosting services in the Cloud."

He stressed the openness of the Azure approach to Cloud computing, saying that the Microsoft initiative will be open to other developer communities including Eclipse and PHP. Early Ruby and Python SDKs have been made available.

Azure will also build on the Oslo modeling approach to SOA, which is being previewed at PDC, Muglia said. The Oslo tools including the new "M" language will be part of Azure Cloud development, he said.

For more information
Microsoft modeling strategy: Work in progress

Microsoft previews new Dublin composite app platform for SOA

The Azure approach also seeks to bridge the gap between in-house applications and those based in the Cloud, so the organizations can maintain some application in their data center and move others to the Cloud, Muglia said. Azure will provide security and identity management to reassure organizations that their Cloud-based applications are protected, he said.

Initially, the data center for Azure will be hosted by Microsoft in the U.S. but will expand as the Cloud technology rolls out, Ozzie explained.

The Oslo modeling framework originally aimed at SOA development, fits in with the vision of Windows Azure, said Burley Kawasaki, director of Microsoft's connected systems division. The release at PDC of a community technology preview of .NET Framework 4.0 with updated versions of Windows Communication Foundation (WCF) and Windows Workflow Foundation (WF) are compatible with Microsoft's positioning of Cloud computing coexisting with "on-premises" applications, he said.

"The same tools that developers will be using for on-premises application development will also translate to Cloud-based applications," Kawasaki said.

Benjamin Day, principal, Ben Day Consulting, Boston, MA, and Microsoft MVP, viewed the Azure as positive, agreeing with Kawasaki that developers already working with Microsoft tools will have little trouble transitioning to the Cloud approach.

"From the developer's point of view, it's actually going to be pretty good," Day said. "A lot of times when you have big game-changer technologies, you have to learn a whole bunch of new stuff. Well, if you have experience writing ASP.NET applications and have experience with C# or VB.NET, you should be able to start coding on the Azure platform with almost no learning curve.

"There is a bit of a learning curve with data storage in Azure but if you have knowledge of LINQ To SQL you should be okay. The bottom line is that we'll be able to write highly scaleable applications with the skills we already have."

A view on Azure was offered at a PDC session on "Enterprise in the Cloud," by Erick Johnson, senior director of product research at Epicor Software Corp., an ERP vendor.

Epicor's first project with migrating a .NET/SQL Server-based ERP application to the Cloud with Azure took his development team 64 hours and they were able to keep 92% of the existing code, Johnson told PDC attendees.

How much is real now? How soon will it appear commercially? These are questions that will be repeatedly asked of this Microsoft initiative. While Azure is a new initiative, the SQL Data Services and .NET Services components that are part of the plan are fairly well along, said David Chappell, principal of Chappell & Associates in San Francisco.

"SQL Data Services was going to be an umbrella term for range of Cloud-based database services like reporting. The core of that is something they've had out for awhile called SQL Server Data Services (SSDS). They've renamed that as SQL Data Services. So from that point of view, SQL Data Services is one of the farther-along components of the Azure services platform."

Similarly, Chappell noted that the .NET Services piece is based on the existing BizTalk Services.

Microsoft's Cloud computing moves have been anticipated. The Cloud computing scheme has been endorsed by Web power houses such as Amazon, Google and SalesForce.com, although each has a different take on what makes a Cloud computing architecture.

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