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10 Noteworthy New Features Coming to Microsoft's Azure Cloud Platform

Late last month Microsoft fleshed out its Windows Azure Platform with a roadmap of new capabilities and features that the company will roll out over the coming year.

Microsoft late last month fleshed out its Windows Azure Platform with a roadmap of new capabilities and features that the company will roll out over the coming year.

The improvements to Microsoft's cloud computing platform, revealed at its Professional Developers Conference (PDC) held in Redmond and streamed online, are substantial and underscore the company's ambitions to ensure the Windows Azure Platform ultimately achieves a wider footprint in enterprise IT.

"They are making Windows Azure more consumable and more broadly applicable for customers and developers," said IDC analyst Al Gillen.

The Windows Azure Platform, which today primarily consists of Windows Azure and SQL Azure, went live back in February. Microsoft boasts its cloud service is now being used for over 20,000 applications. In his keynote address at the PDC, Microsoft Server and Tools president Bob Muglia, played up the platform as a service (PaaS) cloud infrastructure that the company is building with Windows Azure.

"I think it is very clear, that that is where the future of applications will go," Muglia told attendees at PDC in his speech. "Platform as a service will redefine the landscape and Microsoft is very focused on this. This is where we are putting the majority of our focus in terms of delivering a new platform."

Muglia recalled Microsoft's second PDC in July of 1992 when the company introduced Windows NT, a platform that would play a key role in client-server computing. "We see a new age beginning, one that will go beyond what we saw 18 years ago," he said. "Windows Azure was designed to run as the next generation platform as a service. It is an operating system that was designed for this environment."

Still Gillen pointed out that Windows Azure represents the future of how applications will be built and data will be managed but it will not replace traditional Windows anytime soon. "At the end of the day, there will be customers running perpetual license copies [of traditional software] 10 or 15 years from now," Gillen noted.

While PDC was targeted at developers, the company's new offerings are bound to resonate with IT pros and partners. Some of the new services coming to Windows Azure and SQL Azure are aimed at bringing more enterprise features found in Microsoft's core platforms to the cloud. Among the new cloud services announced last month at PDC:

  1. Windows Azure Virtual Machine Roles: Will allow organizations to move entire virtual machine images from Windows Server 2008R2 to Windows Azure. "You can take a Windows Server 2008R2 image that you've built with Hyper-V in your environment and move that into the Windows Azure environment and run it as is with no changes," Muglia explained. Microsoft will release a public beta by year's end. The company also plans to support Windows Server 2003 and Windows Server 2008 SP2 sometime next year. "That's a compatibility play and an evolutionary play so the customers can have an opportunity to bring certain applications into Windows Azure, run them in a traditional Windows Server environment," Gillen said. "Over time, they will have the ability to evolve those applications to become native Azure or potentially just leave them there [on the VM Role running on top of Azure] forever and encapsulate them in some way and access the business value that those applications contain."
  2. Server Application Virtualization: Will let IT take existing applications and deploy them without going through the installation process, into a Windows Azure worker role, according to Muglia. "We think it's a very exciting way to help you get compatibility with existing Windows Server applications in the cloud environment," Muglia said. Added Gillen: "It has the potential to give customers a pretty comfortable path to bring existing applications over to Windows Azure. That can be really huge because if Microsoft can do that and they can bring Windows Server applications over to Windows Azure, and let them run without dragging along a whole operating system with them, that creates an opportunity that Microsoft can exploit that no one else in the industry can match." The company will release a community technology preview (CTP) by year's end with commercial availability slated for the second half of 2011.
  3. Remote Desktop: Set for release later this year, IT pros will be able to connect to a running instance of an app or service to monitor activities or troubleshoot problems.
  4. Windows Server 2008R2 Roles: Also due out later this year, Windows Azure will support Windows Server 2008R2 in Web, worker and VM roles, Microsoft said. That will let customers and partners use features such as IIS 7.5, AppLocker and command-line management using PowerShell Version 2.0, Microsoft said. 
  5. Full IIS support: The Web role in Windows Azure will provide full IIS functionality, Microsoft said. This will be available later this year.
  6. Windows Azure Connect: The technology previously known as Project Sydney, Windows Azure Connect will provide IP-based connectivity between enterprise premises-based and Windows Azure-based services. "That will connect your existing corporate datacenters and databases and information and apps on your existing corporate datacenter virtually into the Windows Azure applications that you have," Muglia said. "In part that enables hybrid cloud," Gillen said. "Hybrid cloud is going to be so important simply because customers are not going to go directly to a full native cloud. If they can have an opportunity to have a hybrid scenario it's actually very attractive for a lot of customers. The company plans a CTP by year's end with release slated for the first half of 2011.
  7. Windows Azure Marketplace: Much like an app store, the Windows Azure Marketplace is aimed at letting devs and IT pros share buy and sell apps, services and various other components, including training offerings. A component of the marketplace is Microsoft's DataMarket, formerly code-named Dallas, which consists of premium apps with more than 40 data providers now on board. The Windows Azure Marketplace beta will be released by year's end.
  8. Multiple Admins: In a move aimed at letting various team members manage a Windows Azure account, the service will by year's end allow multiple Windows Live IDs to have administrator privileges, Microsoft said.
  9. Windows Azure AppFabric: The company announced the release of Windows AppFabric Access control, which helps build federated authorization to apps and services without requiring programming, Microsoft said. Also released was Windows Azure AppFabric Connect, aimed at bridging existing line-of-business apps to Windows Azure via the AppFabric Service Bus. It extends BizTalk Server 2010 to support hybrid cloud scenarios –those that use both on and off premises resources.
  10. Database Manager for SQL Azure: This Web-based database querying and management tool, formerly known as "Project Houston," will be available by year's end. Also, for those who like SQL Server Reporting Services, SQL Azure Reporting will be a welcome addition to SQL Azure, allowing users to analyze business data stored in SQL Azure databases.

Perhaps more mundane but bound to be noticed by all Windows Azure users, is an overall facelift to the portal, with what the company describes as an improved user interface. The new portal will provide diagnostic data, a streamlined account setup and new support databases and forums.

Posted by Jeffrey Schwartz on November 15, 2010 at 11:58 AM


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