What's next for Microsoft's Azure cloud platform?

What's next for Microsoft's Azure cloud platform?

Summary: In the past year, customers and developers testing Windows Azure have been running primarily brand-new (and largely Web 2.0 style) apps on Microsoft's cloud operating system. But when will Azure be tuned to handle host legacy enterprise apps? And when and how will users be able to take advantage of some of the Azure technologies inside of their own "private clouds"?

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In the past year, customers and developers testing Windows Azure have been running primarily brand-new (and largely Web 2.0 style) apps on Microsoft's cloud operating system. But when will Azure be tuned to handle host legacy enterprise apps? And when and how will users be able to take advantage of some of the Azure technologies inside of their own "private clouds"?

Microsoft officials didn't share dates for its next phases of the Windows Azure platform. But they did talk about some of their plans for their next steps with Microsoft's cloud platform during meetings and sessions at the company's Professional Developers Conference (PDC) on November 17.

Microsoft said the Windows Azure platform -- which is the Windows Azure operating system and the SQL Azure database -- is feature-complete as of today. (Officials said a few weeks ago that Microsoft wouldn't begin charging customers to use the platform until February 1, 2010.)

"Our initial focus on the platform was on enabling Web 2.0 customers to develop and run their apps on it," said Amitabh Srivastava, Senior Vice President in charge of Windows Azure. These kinds of applications are Xcopy-deployable, while older, legacy apps typically are not, Srivastava said.

Microsoft's next Azure steps -- which it will be executing largely in parallel -- will be to get existing, and typically more complex, line-of-business apps to run on the platform and to make it possible for customers to implement Azure technologies in their own data centers (a k a, to be able to create private clouds).

To enable existing apps to run on Azure, Microsoft is planning to make virtual machines (VMs) available to developers, which they will be able to customize and run their legacy apps inside them. Srivastava wouldn't provide a timetable or more details as to how or when Microsoft will do this. Apps running in VMs won't be able to take full advantage of the elasticity, multitenancy, and other cloud functionality, but they still will derive some benefits, such as automatic cloud backup for apps running on the Azure platform. (The name of this VM capability will be "Windows Server Virtual Machine Roles on Windows Azure," Microsoft execs later told me.)

On the private cloud front, Microsoft didn't have much new to say at the PDC. Microsoft officials have said in the past that Microsoft won't allow customers to run the Azure operating system in their own datacenters. Microsoft's main focus here continues to be to provide customers with software like Windows Server, SQL Server, Exchange Server, etc., for them to run in their own datacenters. That said, Microsoft isn't simply leaving the delivery of a private cloud solution to Amazon and other cloud competitors.

"Lots of the technologies we have in the cloud are things people want to run in their datacenters," Srivastava acknowledged.(He cited as an example the ability to run a scalable cloud-storage appliance on premises.)

Microsoft is working on a longer-term solution that would allow the company to offer datacenter containers that can be dedicated to individual customers, Srivastava said. That way, clouds can be customized for individual users and users will be able to manage these containers themselves. Again, Srivastava wasn't ready to talk about deployment specifics or timetables for this. That said, "Project Sydney" (Microsoft's newly announced connectivity offering for private datacenters and public clouds) shows the general direction where we are going," Srivastava said.

Microsoft officials made a vague reference in this morning's keynote to System Center in the cloud. I asked Srivastava if this meant Microsoft was looking to offer System Center as a Microsoft-hosted service, the way that it is offering Exchange and Office Communications Server as Microsoft-hosted offerings. That isn't the case, he said; instead, Microsoft has opened up the Windows Azure management programming interfaces so that System Center -- as well as third-party management products like HP OpenView -- can manage Azure-hosted applications.

Not everything about what's next for Azure is a longer-term direction. In sessions on November 17, Microsoft officials outlined some of the nearer term deliverables for Microsoft's cloud platform. The recently introduced content-delivery-network (CDN) support for blobs in Windows Azure's storage system is one of those deliverables. Another is a capability MIcrosoft is calling "Windows Azure Drive" (also known as Xdrive) which allows Azure developers to create a drive inside their virtual machines, providing them with an automatic back up capability. Microsoft plans to officially "turn on" Xdrive support in January, officials said.

Topics: Software, Data Centers, Hardware, Microsoft, Operating Systems, Storage, 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).

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22 comments
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  • So MS is going cloud...

    Well, well, isn't this interesting. Does MS concede that the era of packaged client software is over? Again, MS is the follower and not the leader, and again, MS is following Google to the clouds.

    My prediction is that this will be a field day for virus writers, the MS cloud will get infected very fast. Sorry MS, late again..
    prof123
    • You are late

      to the news I guess, Azure is very different than Google's and Amazon's and I'm sure people will eventually switch because although MS is late always offers the best featured solution, being late is not the rule to failure, btw you don't have to worry about viruses is stupid to think you can get a virus inside Azure is not like a PC over Internet duh what's with this missinformed people!
      keoz
      • You must be joking...

        A hacker will exploit some Azure weakness in the code (believe me, there is no shortage). Using this, he will introduce a trojan which will be able to see contents of the databases, transmit personal data and so on. You do not consider that a problem?
        prof123
        • A trojan?

          Are you that narrow minded?
          hectormacias
    • cloud stalking

      Actually, it is Amazon that Microsoft is following into the cloud as the Azure and EC2 feature sets are very comparable. See http://it.toolbox.com/blogs/future-of-work/understanding-the-cloud-34847 for a more in depth comparison between Azure, EC2, and Google App Engine.
      gengstrand
    • Windows isnt over

      Who said windows was going to be abandoned in any near future? Windows 8 is in the works, it'll be out 2012, and you bet a windows 9 will be here.

      MS is going both ways cloud and PC-based.
      hectormacias
      • Cloud AND PC

        This is exactly right. Some people believe that cloud computing will spell the end of the PC and its OS. However, while many apps can benefit by running in the cloud, it doesn't make sense for every application.
        Then, there is the area of "hybrid" applications - Software Plus Services - in which parts of the application are run locally and parts are run remotely, in the cloud.

        Windows Azure and cloud computing will offer a lot of benefit to the way we use software, but operating systems aren't going away any time soon.

        (I am contracted by M80, working with Microsoft to promote Windows Azure)
        JasonM80
  • Marketing idiocy - CRAZY

    What the heck are you fools talking about? "Azure?" "The Cloud" ??? its called port 80. It's called a browser. Take your bull shit somewhere else.
    jdieter@...
    • Actually

      virtually-elastic-computing-to-focus-on-business-rules-to-care-less-about-management-to-have-99.5-uptime-to-reduce-costs-to-be-more-secure-etc platform is better to say is not just port 80
      keoz
  • I am afraid that any "new MS platform"

    will be the same way poor as any one before: Insecure,
    vulnerable, failing, loosing data, rebooting without any
    reason, hanging etc. That's why MS has felt out from all
    serious fields where reliability/stability is needed
    (like telecom, military, energy, Internet, banking,
    clusters etc.).

    I believe that last days of immoral MS are counting and I
    am looking forward to their end.
    drleos
    • If you are having these problems...

      ...perhaps you should invest in some COMPETENT assistance to install and configure your Microsoft products?

      ALL the industries you mention DO use Microsoft servers -- and VERY SUCCESSFULLY, by the way.

      I've consulted for all of them over the past 12 years.
      Marty R. Milette
    • Been in a cave for a while?

      Your post belongs in a forum from the early nineties. Microsoft?s servers are more than capable for running corporate systems as they have been doing for the last 9 years. Their latest cloud offerings are running on Microsoft servers and last year maintained a 99.98% uptime with over a million users using Exchange, SharePoint, LiveMeeting and Office Communication Server. Hmmm, unless you think that?s a conspiracy?.
      CloudTalker
    • Are You That clueless?

      You gotta be kidding. Let's see, the last "Blue Screen" I had was on XP SP2 some 4 years ago and that was caused by Apple's iTunes when I purchased a iPod G-5.

      Even when I was running Vista, and now with Windows 7 RTM since August -- No issues, no worries.

      I must ask, do you know what you are really doing?

      I think not. Microsoft can handle it on the server farms side of things. That's not the issue. Or is you are thinking Bandwidth?

      Nonetheless, I am certain that this too is under consideration and will be factored in as if it isn't already.
      Kromaethius
    • Who cares?

      Who cares about your win98 experience in your 10 year old PC?

      We are in the 64 Bit era, which is completely different.

      BTW, Im running OpenSuse 11.2 x64 in Virtual Box, such a waste of time.
      hectormacias
    • LOL keep waiting forever you are missinformed nt

      nt
      keoz
  • New 'Windows BOT CLOUD'

    Yes, now MILLIONS of Windows BOTS and CLOG up the
    Cloud with WINDOWS BOT CLOUD SERVER!

    :(

    Just tell me it is not true!

    :(
    Use_More_OIL_NOW
    • Clogging up the cloud?

      I guess if they invest billions of their own dollars on a Cloud, they get the right to do with it as they please. Fortunately, they've built a sensible Cloud stratgy that a majority of corporations can find value in.
      CloudTalker
  • RE: What I really don't understand about clouds

    ...is what the difference between a "cloud" and simply allocating and deallocating space dynamically as needed. Feels like smoke and marketing...
    gypkap@...
    • The question is, who maintains that allocation

      Most enterprises maintain their own datacenters
      and private clouds. Their internal business units
      pay for capacity i.e. physical hw or virtualized
      compute. Now, instead of maintaining that
      datacenter themselves, they can lease space from
      the likes of MS, Amazon, EMC, Google, etc.

      http://68bomber.blogspot.com
      68bomber
    • benefits of cloud

      The difference is more about the benefits than the features. There is an active discussion about this over at http://storage.ittoolbox.com/groups/technical-functional/cloud-computing-l/featured-who-benefits-from-cloud-technology-3132749
      gengstrand