Microsoft's Windows Azure: What a difference a year makes

Microsoft's Windows Azure: What a difference a year makes

Summary: In some ways, Microsoft's Azure cloud operating environment doesn't seem to have changed much since the Softies first made it available to beta testers almost two years ago. But in other ways, Azure has morphed considerably, especially in the last 12 months.

SHARE:

In some ways, Microsoft's Azure cloud operating environment doesn't seem to have changed much since the Softies first made it available to beta testers almost two years ago. But in other ways -- feature-wise, organization-wise and marketing-wise -- Azure has morphed considerably, especially in the last 12 months.

Microsoft started Windows Azure (when it was known as "Red Dog") with a team of about 150 people. Today, the Azure team is about 1,200 strong, having recently added some new big-name members like Technical Fellow Mark Russinovich. Over the past six months, the Azure team and the Windows Server team have been figuring out how to combine their people and resources into a single integrated group. During that same time frame, the Azure team has launched commercially Microsoft's cloud environment; added new features like content-delivery-network, geo-location and single sign-on; and announced plans for "Azure in a box" appliances for those interested in running Azure in their own private datacenters.

In the coming months, Azure is going to continue to evolve further. Microsoft is readying a new capability to enable customers to add add virtual roles to their Azure environments, as well as a feature (codenamed "Sydney") that will allow users to more easily network their on-premises and cloud infrastructures. The biggest change may actually be on the marketing front, however, as Microsoft moves to position Azure as an offering not just for developers but for business customers of all sizes. (There's more on that in Part 2 of this post, published on Thursday August 12.)

Senior Vice President of Microsoft's combined Server and Cloud Division, Amitabh Srivastava, has headed the Windows Azure team from the start. Srivastava said Windows Azure is still fundamentally the same as when his team first built it. At its core, it consists of the same group of building blocks: Compute, Storage and a Fabric Controller (providing management and virtualization). MIcrosoft's latest "wedding cake" architectural diagram detailing Azure looks almost identical -- at least at the operating system level -- to the team's original plan for Red Dog:

Most of the work that Microsoft has been doing on Azure for the past year has been quiet and behind-the-scenes. The team regularly updates the Azure platform weekly and sometimes even daily. By design, there are no "big releases" of Azure. The Azure team designs around "scenarios," not features. Some scenarios -- like the forthcoming VM role -- can take as long as a year or more to put together; something else, like a more minor user interface change, could take less and show up more quickly.

All these little changes do add up, however.

Next page: The Red Dog puppy grows up

Roger Jennings, cloud expert, blogger and author of Cloud Computing with the Windows Azure Platform, crafted his version of the Azure cake diagram, at my request. Jennings included not just the core platform, but a number of the related add-ons that have been announced for Azure. (Click on the image below to enlarge.)

A number of these new components -- and maybe some new tidbits on Azure batching and lifecycle management, I hear -- are expected to be on the agenda at Microsoft's upcoming Professional Developers Conference in late October.

Bridging the cloud-on-premises gap

Over the past year, "the (Red Dog) puppy grew up," Srivastava said. "But our idea, even from the beginning, was to build something for the enterprise. Our goal from Day 1 was to make it available to developers, but we also knew the enterprise was where the money is."

The "Azure for the enterprise" idea may have been there, but Microsoft officials were cagey (and/or confusing) about exactly how the company planned to make Azure available to the enterprise. It wasn't until July 2010, when the team unveiled its vision for the Windows Azure Appliance, that Microsoft's private-cloud strategy became less fuzzy.

"We said we'd give our partners the (Azure) technology, but we didn't say how," Srivastava said. "We did say it wouldn't be a bunch of bits on a CD."

Pulling all the required pieces together for the Windows Azure Appliance is the job of Corporate Vice President Bill Laing and his team. Laing, who was the Corporate Vice President of Windows Server before the reorg, has been a colleague of Srivasta's since the 1990s, when both worked at Digital Equipment Corp.

As the original Red Dog team consisted primarily of Windows Server guys from the get-go, the combining of Server and Cloud seems to be progressing relatively smoothly on the development/engineering side of the house from what I'm hearing. (Microsoft is even building a bridge across highway 520 between the Windows Server and Windows Azure buildings to make collaboration between the two teams even easier.)

"The IT pro point of view is what I brought to this," Laing said. "Azure originally was a developer platform. But as we started to talk to customers and partners, they wanted to know if they could have Azure in their own data centers."

If Azure's original incarnation was a developer platform and phase two will be an enterprise platform, what's phase three? Laing said it's about scalability. Once Microsoft rolls out the Windows Azure Appliance to its initial set of partners (Dell, Fujitsu, Hewlett-Packard and eBay), each of those organizations will be running an Azure cloud with different value-added services on top. Microsoft also will be filling out the platform with additional services and capabilities, akin to what it does now with Windows Server and its various roles, Laing added.

"Instead of six datacenters, Azure can be in 600 datacenters," Srivastava said. "But they'll be running the same underlying stack in all of these places."

What has made this kind of private-cloud deployment more tricky than just shipping out a bunch of servers running Windows Azure is the "service-model" concept that has been part of Azure since its inception. (Microsoft history buffs may remember Microsoft's original "Dynamic Datacenter Initiative"; Windows Azure is the manifestation of many of those same notions.)

The idea behind the service model is Azure should be able to provide customers and partners with auto-configuration, deployment and overall management. It should be able to calculate how many Web front ends and how many back-ends are needed to run an application or service and automatically provision those, Laing said. This is where advances in app-server virtualization and systems management will come into play in the not-too-distant future.

"IT pros have been overwhelmed by managing this infrastructure," Laing said. Microsoft believes Azure can make it easier.

In part 2 of this post, ' consider Microsoft's marketing challenges as it moves to a cloud-centric "IT as a service" strategy, plus what's next for Azure customers, including Microsoft itself.

Topics: CXO, IT Employment, Storage, Software, Servers, Operating Systems, Microsoft, Hardware, Data Centers, Windows

About

Mary Jo has covered the tech industry for 30 years for a variety of publications and Web sites, and is a frequent guest on radio, TV and podcasts, speaking about all things Microsoft-related. She is the author of Microsoft 2.0: How Microsoft plans to stay relevant in the post-Gates era (John Wiley & Sons, 2008).

Kick off your day with ZDNet's daily email newsletter. It's the freshest tech news and opinion, served hot. Get it.

Talkback

35 comments
Log in or register to join the discussion
  • RE: Microsoft's Windows Azure: What a difference a year makes

    Hi MJ,
    I had some thoughts around the advancement of Azure myself. I figure that just as they are scaling up to let other major players run Azure in their datacenters they will also scale down i.e. let us all run it on our own home machines so that we then "rent" back compute time to Azure.
    See here for more thoughts: http://sqlblog.com/blogs/jamie_thomson/archive/2010/08/01/the-one-billion-node-machine-plus-one.aspx

    -Jamie
    jamiet
    • Azure on a PC

      Interesting idea, Jamie... Microsoft is talking now about "personal cloud," but that seems like little more than Windows Live rebranded, to me. They also are adding cloud hooks into their small-business offerings with the forthcoming "Aurora" hybrid server. I wonder if they'd go to the extent you outline... Good food for thougt. MJ
      Mary Jo Foley
      • RE: Microsoft's Windows Azure: What a difference a year makes

        @Mary Jo Foley
        Yeah agreed, I do think that WL is going to be the personal cloud (in the past I've called it the "personal mainframe" - not far off). Azure is much more of an enterprise offering whereas "personal cloud" is a consumer offering - it would be interesting if they brought the two together!

        Definitely food for thought.

        -Jamie
        jamiet
      • RE: Microsoft's Windows Azure: What a difference a year makes

        @Mary Jo Foley I'd be happy if <a href="http://www.trsohbet.com">sohbet</a> got rid of the ribbon and gave us <a href="http://www.trsohbet.com">chat</a> users the pull-down menus that existed before Office 2007 for <a href="http://www.forumuz.net/">forum</a>. I like getting Outlook for the <a href="http://www.trsohbet.com/portal/">portal</a>. It has grown on me since my new Windows <a href="http://video.trsohbet.com">izlesene</a> box had to use Outlook since <a href="http://www.trsohbet.com">chat sohbet</a> was removed. <a href="http://www.trsohbet.com">sohbet odalari</a> email client is <a href="http://www.trsohbet.com.tr">mynet sohbet</a> to <a href="http://www.trsohbet.com.tr">cinsel sohbet</a> weak.
        timaeus
      • RE: Microsoft's Windows Azure: What a difference a year makes

        @Mary Jo Foley very interesting read that Microsoft talking personal cloud. Keep up the good work. <a href="http://www.worldwideacademics.com/programs/online-diploma.asp">online diploma</a> | <a href="http://www.worldwideacademics.com/programs/online-graduate-diploma.asp">graduates diplomas</a> | <a href="http://www.worldwideacademics.com/programs/online-undergraduate-diploma.asp">undergraduate diploma</a>
        otisa
    • Wow! Very Interesting!

      @jamiet,

      I like your general idea of using Azure to expand on the SETI type distributed computing model. If security can be addressed, then it could (as you indicated) be a way for consumers to rent out use of their PCs. Maybe in countries that have significant piracy issues, MS could simply give away Windows at very low cost, and recuperate money through this scheme.

      Besides above, I think there are other interesting private cloud computing models MS could implement. I also think special virtualized servers could be set up on regular PCs within the enterprise, and computing loads could spill over onto these PCs during peak loads and other times - for companies that are adamant about keeping data on site. I also think that some Windows client PCs could be sold, with virtual servers that establish private clouds for people's homes. (These PCs would be dual functioned, establishing a relatively cheap, private server / cloud for the home, as well as serving as desktop clients.) I think selling these PCs would be so easy. "Buy a PC for your home, with your own private cloud, to store your private data, on your own equipment!"
      P. Douglas
      • RE: Microsoft's Windows Azure: What a difference a year makes

        @P. Douglas
        The idea of "spill over" is a very interesting one.

        "Buy some grunt compute from us and if you tip the scales we'll automatically put you onto this cheapo "spill-over" stuff."

        Interesting model!

        -Jamie
        jamiet
      • RE: Microsoft's Windows Azure: What a difference a year makes

        @P. Douglas

        The same advertisers that brought us Seinfeld (lets play footsie and wiggle our shorts Bill), Laptop Hunters (that got all sorts of bad press for lies (incorrect pricing and customer never actually went into an Apple store) and portraying windows as "cheep"), And Windows 7 was Macs idea (where a college kid who can't get laid and get kicked out of his dorm room (by his Mac roommate) has to watch TV in the hall because he doesn't even have a friend whom he could visit).

        I bet Kinect will<a href="http://www.gopsohbet.net" title="cinsel sohbet" target="_blank">cinsel sohbet</a> not be magical either.
        IE8 had multi-process architecture before Chrome launched, and in fact<a href="http://sohbettir.com" title="sohbet" target="_blank">sohbet</a> was the first browser to announce the feature. <a href="http://www.gopsohbet.net" title="gay sohbet" target="_blank">gay sohbet</a> That's why both Chrome and IE use far more memory than the other browsers.<a href="http://www.alemchat.net" title="mynet sohbet" target="_blank">mynet sohbet</a> Chrome is a bit more strict than IE, IE will allow tabs with the same integrety level to <a href="http://www.eskimynetsohbet.com" title="mynet sohbet" target="_blank">mynet sohbet</a> share a single process.<a href="http://www.eskimynetsohbet.com" title="mynet" target="_blank">mynet</a> <a href="http://www.mynetci.com" title="mynet sohbet" target="_blank">mynet sohbet</a> Outside of that MS beat Google to the punch.<a href="http://www.mynetci.com" title="mynet" target="_blank">mynet</a> Good try though.<a href="http://www.indirmedenfilmizlehd.com" title="indirmeden film izle" target="_blank">indirmeden film izle</a>If MS came out with touch UIs for at least Word, Excel,<a href="http://sohbettir.com/forum" title="forum" target="_blank">forum</a> OneNote, and Outlook, with super slick, and highly<a href="http://eglence.sohbettir.com" title="youtube" target="_blank">youtube</a> effective integrated virtual keyboards, that would be mind blowing! I think <a href="http://sohbettir.com" title="canli sohbet" target="_blank">canli sohbet</a>that would be like lighting a rocket under PC touch computing.<a href="http://www.indirmedenfilmizlehd.com" title="bedava film izle" target="_blank">bedava film izle</a>
        exibir
    • RE: Microsoft's Windows Azure: What a difference a year makes

      @jamiet Alas they don't support XP making it irrelevant for me. I haven't seen any mention of any component using Direct2D/DirectWrite unlike IE9 which truly uses these at its core. Live Wave 4 is falsely dependent on Vista by using the Windows Ribbon framework which was only ported up to Vista instead of using the Office 2010 Ribbon which is improved in fact and supports XP as well. In one of the interviews by Ina Fried, their VP says "We just decided not to support XP". Now that's evil without any real dependency on Vista. <a href="http://www.arabaoyunlarimiz.gen.tr/beceri-oyunlari/dunyanin-en-zor.html">dunyanin en zor oyunu</a> <a href="http://www.kraloyun.gen.tr/yeni-oyunlar/">yeni oyunlar</a> <a href="http://www.game.gen.tr/kategori-4-32-Ben_10_Oyunlari.html">ben 10</a>
      Arabalar
    • RE: Microsoft's Windows Azure: What a difference a year makes

      @jamiet Linux server growth has already slowed into the single digits. Microsoft server sales are already greater than Office sales. Linux servers replace only Unix servers, and Microsoft server sales will surpass those for the combination of Linux and Unix soon enough.<br><br>Microsoft has obtained the expertise and assistance of SuSE in creating the migration tools that will ease the Linux to Windows transition. The path was already marked out.<br><br>Linux to Windows will soon be far easier than Unix to Windows has ever been. And companies can't wait for their chance to leap into the future.<br><br>So curb your impatience. Linux and the rest of op-en source peaked awhile ago. They'll recede soon enough. Not everything has to happen in internet time frames.
      <a href="http://www.kralarabaoyunlari.com/savas-oyunlari/">savas oyunlari</a> <a href="http://www.kralarabaoyunlari.com/yaris-oyunlari/">yaris oyunlari</a>
      KralLord
    • RE: Microsoft's Windows Azure: What a difference a year makes

      @jamiet Linux server growth has already slowed into the single digits. Microsoft server sales are already greater than Office sales. Linux servers replace only Unix servers, and Microsoft server sales will surpass those for the combination of Linux and Unix soon enough.

      Microsoft has obtained the expertise and assistance of SuSE in creating the migration tools that will ease the Linux to Windows transition. The path was already marked out.

      Linux to Windows will soon be far easier than Unix to Windows has ever been. And companies can't wait for their chance to leap into the future.

      So curb your impatience. Linux and the rest of op-en source peaked awhile ago. They'll recede soon enough. Not everything has to happen in internet time frames.
      KralLord
      • RE: Microsoft's Windows Azure: What a difference a year makes

        @KralLord very good though and i see in you comment first you research about it then you give you comment such a nice read. <a href="http://www.worldwideacademics.com/programs/online-certificate.asp">certificate Programs</a> | <a href="http://www.worldwideacademics.com/programs/online-postgraduate-certificate.asp">postgraduate certificates</a>
        otisa
  • The idea of cloud computing is fundamentally wrong...

    There are two things about cloud computing need to be clarified. Services regarding personal computing, web mail, video, music, social, gaming, storage, and services regarding enpterprises. The former is fine in the cloud. as a matter of fact webmail started ages ago, no one call it cloud computing. The real deal about cloud computing is the later. <br>lets look at it.<br><br>the argument about cloud computing is reduced cost for enterprises. Other than that there is no advantages over installed software. You may say a web interface allow people access from anywhere, but how many chances are there for workers to run anything on the run? Any body done a math: is it really cheaper? Lets see how much it cost to run your own software,<br><br>1. Any PC on the market today can be a good server. You spend $500 buy a server, don't have to worry about it for 5, 6 years.<br>2. Windows Server license: I don't have a number, but it is not something that would make you feel uneasy.<br>3. SQL Server: you can have SQL Express for free for 50 seats or even more, this is by exprience.<br>4. Hire IT person: you need to have someone take care of you network in any case.<br><br>The biggest hurdle is other than a one person startup, why would any company in the world put their data on somebody else's data center? You may say, OK, you can put your data in your home, and still run it on the cloud, but if I put data at home, what's the point of cloud? Also the idea of private cloud, again, if private, then what's point of the cloud? Just to get a web interface?<br><br>There are two things people are ignoring: web application can never match smoothness of local run software, centralized computing is technically wrong. The basics: We have billion PCs arround the world, they are very powerful, nobody's data center can match the computing power of that, now you are tell people to abandon these, and use computers that is sitting in some company's data centers.<br><br>What sounds weired to me is: people talking about cloud computing like it is reality. <br><br>Cloud computing hasn't happen yet, it will never.
    jk_10
    • RE: Microsoft's Windows Azure: What a difference a year makes

      @jk_10 , when the banking system was just getting started a long time ago, there were a lot of folks who scoffed at the idea and said "why in the world would I put MY money in some central place and mix it up with other people's money. I think it is a lot safer under my Mattress. Besides, I can see, touch, smell it. It makes me feel I'm in control of MY money". Do you think like this about putting your money in the bank today? In fact, it is a lot safer to put your money in the bank than keeping it under your mattress particularly if you live in a risky neighborhood.

      Banks spend millions of dollars on security. They have some of best security experts on staff. You can also earn interest and get other advantages as well.

      Now replace "Bank" with "Cloud" and "Money" with "Data".

      The cloud trend is inevitable. You can bury your head in the sand and keep saying that the world is not changing around you, but that won't change the reality of it. Cloud is real, it is happening, and it will be a dominant computing model in the next decade. The change will not happen overnight, but the trends are unmistakable.
      kpemmaraju001
      • RE: Microsoft's Windows Azure: What a difference a year makes

        @kpemmaraju001 The reality is people have talked about cloud for 3 plus years. Do you see any enterprise really using it? Yes, you may give me some numbers, but it doesn't matter. the best example of clouding computing eBay. eBay has its bussiness, but eBay doesn't change the business modle of the 99% of enterprises. if cloud is meant for 1% of businesses, does it matter?

        Your example of money in banks doesn't really tell the story. Data is not just data, it includes your business information. There are a lot of things that you don't want anyone outside of the company know. If there isn't a big incentive why would I put it in the cloud. I can tell you one thing, if the US goverment decide to put their files in the cloud, it doesn't take a year, you will be able see them everywhere in the Internet.

        Most of time in past, people said about trend turned out to be wrong. This one is the oddest to me.
        jk_10
      • Mattresses are a lot different from local IT infrastructures

        @kpemmaraju001,

        The problem with your analogy, is that your money is insured against loss at a bank. If something happens to your money, the government assures you you will get it back. If your private data gets leaked or compromised, will the government or private companies compensate you for it? Once data gets leaked, you cannot unleak it. You could very well find your company or personal secrets on a site like Wikileaks, or your competitor come out with a product that looks a lot like the one you were developing. Plus the capabilities of local IT infrastructures at companies are a lot like those found in cloud infrastructures. So you are not coming from a situation where a company has no IT capability, and wants to take advantage of those available in public clouds. Most companies have their own IT which they can 'cloudify' to approximate those of public clouds.

        Public utilities make sense when there are no comparable private utilities, or you just don't care about owning one. That is why most people prefer owning cars to taking public transportation, or owning their own houses rather than renting or living in public housing. People use banks because there are no bank appliance alternatives they can keep in their homes, and use power from public utilities, because there are no power appliances they can easily and affordably maintain. The above is why private clouds will likely succeed, and public clouds will largely offer supplemental services.
        P. Douglas
      • The cloud is not a bank

        I could exchange "bank" with other things and my examples would highlight disasters of trust. The cloud is not regulated and insured like banks.
        dpatjhh
      • RE: Microsoft's Windows Azure: What a difference a year makes

        @jk_10
        The reality is people have talked about cloud for 3 plus years. Do you see any enterprise really using it?
        -------------------------

        I get the sense that you don't really understand nor follow cloud development because that statement is woefully incorrect on so many levels.

        First, you should take a look at Amazon's earnings for the last couple of quarters. When you do you will see a huge chunk of money being earned from their sale of cloud space. Then you should take a look at Salesforce on their cloud, then NASA and notice that Microsoft has 10 datacenters worldwide at a cost of $5billion per data center. Notice also that Microsoft office now has a very roboust cloud version with Live office.

        I read somewhere (no proof of truth) that 30% of all enterprises have already begun a cloud strategy.
        rengek
    • The point of private home clouds

      @jk_10,

      [i]You may say, OK, you can put your data in your home, and still run it on the cloud, but if I put data at home, what's the point of cloud? Also the idea of private cloud, again, if private, then what's point of the cloud? Just to get a web interface?[/i]

      Basically I'm talking about having a scaled down version of Windows Home Server. Windows Home Server is a server with cloud aspects - in that it allows you to access you data / home network from anywhere on the Internet. This allows you to do several things including:

      1) Use public cloud services but have data reside on your computers (instead of someone else's). Therefore e.g., instead of taking a picture with Windows Phone 7, and having the picture automatically loaded into MS' Skydrive, the picture could be automatically loaded onto your PC at home instead. Instead of storing your personal information on MS servers, so that if you lose your smartphone, the data can be automatically restored on your new phone; the data could be stored on your computers.

      One more thing, if you put a web interface onto your home server, you just made it into a private cloud - by virtue of the fact you made your home server accessible from anywhere via the Internet.
      P. Douglas
      • RE: Microsoft's Windows Azure: What a difference a year makes

        @jk_10. There's nothing odd about the trend. When the Internet "trend" was taking off in the mid-nineties, it didn't quite take off in 2-3 years. People talked about it a lot, companies were pouring billions of dollars into it and when the bubble burst in the late 90's, some thought that was the end of the Internet and no businesses would use it for any serious enterprise work. It took more than 10 years to become mainstream. Today, trillions of dollars are transacted over the Internet.

        Besides, why are traditional companies like Microsoft, IBM spending billions of dollars investing in cloud computing knowing fully well that the cloud could cannibalize their existing businesses? A bunch of smart people there can see the coming trend.
        kpemmaraju001