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Microsoft Announces Azure Improvements at TechEd

Microsoft launched several new services during Tuesday's kickoff of the TechEd Europe conference that are aimed at simplifying the deployment, security and management of apps running in the Microsoft Azure cloud.

Microsoft unveiled a new feature called Azure Operational Insights, which will tie Azure and Azure HDInsight with Microsoft's System Center management platform. HDInsight, the Apache Hadoop-based Big Data analytics service, will monitor and analyze machine data from cloud environments to determine where IT pros need to reallocate capacity.

Azure Operational Insights will be available as a preview in November (a limited preview is currently available). The service initially will address four key functions: log management, change tracking, capacity planning and update assessment. It uses the Microsoft Monitoring Agent, which incorporates an application performance monitor for .NET apps and the IntelliTrace Collector in Microsoft's Visual Studio development tooling, which collects complete application-profiling traces. Microsoft offers the Monitoring Agent as a standalone tool or as a plugin to System Center Operations Manager.

Dave Mountain, vice president of marketing at BlueStripe Software, was impressed with the amount of information the service gathers and the way it's presented. "If you look at it, this is a tool for plugging together management data and displaying it clearly," Mountain said. "The interface is very slick. There's a lot of customization and it's tile-based."

Microsoft also debuted Azure Batch, which officials say is designed to let customers use Azure for jobs that require "massive" scale-out. The Azure Batch unveiling comes on the heels of Microsoft's announcement last week that it will support more robust G-series of virtual machines, which boast up to 32 CPU cores of compute based on Intel's newest Xeon processors, 45GB of RAM and 6.5TB of local SSD storage.

Azure Batch, available in preview now, is based on the job scheduling engine used by Microsoft internally to manage the encoding of Azure Media Services and for testing the Azure infrastructure itself, said Scott Guthrie, Microsoft's executive vice president for cloud and enterprise, in a blog post Tuesday.

"This new platform service provides 'job scheduling as a service' with auto-scaling of compute resources, making it easy to run large-scale parallel and high performance computing (HPC) work in Azure," Guthrie said. "You submit jobs, we start the VMs, run your tasks, handle any failures, and then shut things down as work completes."

The new Azure Batch SDK is based on the application framework from GreenButton, a New Zealand-based company Microsoft acquired in May, Guthrie noted.

"The Azure Batch SDK makes it easy to cloud-enable parallel, cluster, and HPC applications by describing jobs with the required resources, data, and one or more compute tasks," he said. "With job scheduling as a service, Azure developers can focus on using batch computing in their applications and delivering services without needing to build and manage a work queue, scaling resources up and down efficiently, dispatching tasks, and handling failures."

Microsoft also said it has made its Azure Automation service generally available. The tool is designed to automate repetitive cloud management tasks that are time consuming and prone to error, the company said. It's designed to use existing PowerShell workflows or IT pros can deploy their own.

Also generally available is WebJobs, the component of Azure Websites designed to simplify the running of programs, services or background tasks on a Web site, according a Tuesday post on the Microsoft Azure blog by product marketing manager Vibhor Kapoor.

"WebJobs inherits all the goodness of Azure Websites -- deployment options, remote debugging capabilities, load balancing and auto-scaling," Kapoor noted. "Jobs can run in one instance, or in all of them. With WebJobs all the building blocks are there to build something amazing or, small background jobs to perform maintenance for a Web site."

About the Author

Jeffrey Schwartz is editor of Redmond magazine and also covers cloud computing for Virtualization Review's Cloud Report. In addition, he writes the Channeling the Cloud column for Redmond Channel Partner. Follow him on Twitter @JeffreySchwartz.