Microsoft is making a number of announcements around tools and database tweaks for its Azure cloud platform at this week's TechEd conference. But I'm more interested in some of the more subtle clues I've been picking up about the Softies' future cloud strategies and directions here.
First, Microsoft execs are moving away from using the public/private cloud lingo in favor of standard/dedicated. This is a well-calculated trial balloon. Currently, Microsoft uses "Standard" to refer to the versions of its Business Productivity Online Suite (BPOS) Microsoft-hosted cloud apps that run in a shared hardware/multitenant configuration. The Softies use "Dedicated" to refer to BPOS cloud apps that run on hardware that is dedicated for a single customer.
The Standard/Dedicated distinction makes it clear that it's the hardware that is the focus of how Microsoft plans to offer customers public (shared) vs. private (non-shared) cloud infrastructure and applications.
Some of Microsoft's server partners already offer large customers the option of buying dedicated shipping containers full of servers, storage and cooling mechanisms so they can run Windows Server, SQL Server and Systems Center themselves or via partners -- with the Distibuted Data Toolkit allowing them to take advantage of some of the provisioning, servicing and other functionality that makes a dedicated set-up a "cloud."
As Microsoft execs noted last week, Azure has just passed the 10,000 customer milestone. Microsoft expected Azure's first customers to be primarily small businesses and ISVs, but there have been a surprising number of larger and enterprise customers who've been adopting the platform.
"The growth of the enterprise base has accelerated our thinking about the private cloud," said Prashant Ketkar, Director of Product and Field Marketing for Windows Azure. "The enterprise demand has caused us to change, from both an engineering and a road map perspective."
One of those deliverables that Microsoft is accelerating is helping customers move their existing applications onto Azure with a minimum of retooling. Microsoft kicked off a pilot test with Amazon earlier this year via which Microsoft is making available to Azure customers and developers the ability to customize and run their legacy applications inside of virtual machines via a feature known as “Windows Server Virtual Machine Roles on Windows Azure.”
Delivering that capability is part of a one-two punch that Microsoft is readying. Part 2 involves Project Sydney -- a new secure networking capability designed to help customers move apps from the private to the public cloud.
"Sydney comes later. It's VPN (virtual private networking) for applications," said Ketkar.
Sydney will be an add-on to Windows Azure, like the recently introduced content-delivery-network capability, he said. Microsoft will have more to share about the timetable and details of Sydney in the coming months. (I'm hearing possibly at the Worldwide Partner Conference in July this year.)
This week at TechEd, Microsoft rolled out a bunch of new tool and SQL Azure updates. The June 2010 release of the Windows Azure Tools + SDK (software development kit) adds support for Visual Studio 2010 (the release-to-manufacturing version) and .Net 4. The June rollout also adds IntelliTrace support to simplify the process of debugging services in the cloud via the Visual Studio 2010.
Microsoft also added an OS-auto-upgrade feature that allows developers to have a Guest OS automatically upgrade to the latest available release. The feature can be enabled through the Service Management API or through the developer portal.
On the database side, SQL Azure now offers developers worldwide 50 GB of database storage, as of June 28. On August 1, Microsoft is making available (for six months) the SQL Azure Development Accelerator Core, allowing customers to subscribe to the larger database size at a 25 percent discount. SQL Azure now adds support for spatial data, and also a preview version of a new Data Sync Service tool that allows developers to select how and where to distribute their data across multiple datacenters. Microsoft is adding Access 10 Support for SQL Azure, which enables native data connectivity support from Microsoft Office 2010 to SQL Azure.