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Cloudbuilding

Last week, at both Adobe’s MAX and Microsoft’s PDC I kept flashing on the last seconds of Kate Bush’s Cloudbusting video, when her character fires up Donald Sutherland’s cloud-busting machine in reverse and an unstoppable boiling mass of clouds starts to fill the sky…It was interesting to see the two companies’ views of the cloud transition that our industry is going through.
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Written by Simon Bisson and  Mary Branscombe on

Last week, at both Adobe’s MAX and Microsoft’s PDC I kept flashing on the last seconds of Kate Bush’s Cloudbusting video, when her character fires up Donald Sutherland’s cloud-busting machine in reverse and an unstoppable boiling mass of clouds starts to fill the sky…

It was interesting to see the two companies’ views of the cloud transition that our industry is going through. One is strongly focused on providing the user interface layer for the cloud, and the other, the tools and platforms needed to build cloud applications. They’re both approaches we need – building cloud applications is very different from the desktop and on-premises server applications we’re familiar with. It’s much more like working with the web, or with the service-oriented development practices Microsoft has been trying to encourage for most of the last decade.

Adobe’s adoption of HTML 5 isn’t surprising. Flash has never been about replacing the HTML web; it’s always about doing the things that the web can’t do. It started out as an animation tool, added programmability and video, and today it’s a way of delivering high-speed data connections – tomorrow, who knows, though it certainly looks as if 3D is on the agenda. As HTML gains new features, Flash will keep evolving. Talking to Adobe folk at MAX, it’s clear that the company is moving to a parallel set of tooling for Flash and for HTML. It demoed EDGE, a prototype HTML 5 timeline animation tool that authors animations that run in the browser using jQuery. With Dreamweaver as Adobe’s HTML design and layout tool, all that’s missing is a good quality JavaScript IDE to balance the Flash Builder Flex IDE.

What’s important about Adobe’s current direction is that it’s ready to deliver whatever user experience designers and developers want – from the deep, rich Flash/Flex approach (with its option of delivering as AIR or cross-compiling to iOS), to a HTML 5 jQuery/CSS 3 standards-based approach. Both are equally valid, and both are well suited for working with cloud services from any provider. Adobe’s seems to be taking care to be ready to support any design philosophy, and it’s not putting its eggs in one basket. Perhaps its public spat with Apple had good effect, encouraging Adobe to be more up front about its HTML strategy.

Microsoft’s PDC took a different road to the cloud, with a strong focus on the Redmond giant’s Azure Platform-as-a-Service environment. The PaaS approach to cloud is an interesting one, treading a fine line between Software-as-a-Service services like Salesforce.com and Infrastructure-as-a-Service providers like Amazon Web Services. Microsoft handles the complexities of infrastructure and operating system, giving you the tools to build and run your applications in its data centres. There are issues here, especially around migrating from your own data centre to Microsoft’s. That’s why it was good to see the company announce support for both running virtual Windows instances on Azure and support for hosting virtualised applications (using a variant of its desktop App-V sandboxing technology).

Simplifying taking existing tools and services to the cloud is important, but more important still is AppFabric, a service bus that runs both on existing Windows servers and in the cloud on Azure. Write on-premises applications that use AppFabric and migrating them to Azure directly, rather than through an intermediate layer, makes a lot of sense – as it lets you take advantage of Azure’s built-in services and tools, something that virtualised servers and applications can’t do. AppFabric also means you can take advantage of new design patterns that can only really work with cloud services, for example letting you burst additional instances when workloads rise suddenly.

Where Microsoft’s cloud story has problems is in its user experience story. Giving Azure a full Internet Information Server implementation goes a long way to helping here (and gives Adobe somewhere to point Flash and HTML), but Microsoft missed a trick at PDC to show how Silverlight (with its support for the inline LINQ query language and for the WCF web service end-point standard) makes an ideal cloud client, in- and out-of the browser. No wonder it seemed as if Silverlight was dead and gone...

Still, between the two events there was a lot to digest. It’s certainly an interesting time to be a cloud developer.

Simon Bisson

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