Microsoft unveils 'Azure' cloud OS

At the Professional Developers Conference, Microsoft announced the Azure Services Platform, the company's cloud-computing platform

Microsoft on Monday unveiled Windows Azure, the cloud operating system previously code-named 'Red Dog'.

Windows Azure is part of a set of new and existing technologies behind the Azure Services Platform, a development and execution platform that runs end-user and corporate software on Microsoft's own servers, accessible over the web. It joins Google's App Engine and Amazon's EC2 in an increasingly competitive market.

Announcing Azure at Microsoft's Professional Developers Conference in Los Angeles, the company's chief software architect, Ray Ozzie, said that the platform was a significant extension of Windows and is intended for applications designed to run at all scales, from mobile to the datacentre.

Ozzie said that the Azure Services Platform won't run on a company's own servers: "Rather, it's a service running on a vast number of machines housed in Microsoft's own datacentres." Microsoft will also use it as a delivery service, David Thompson, vice president of Microsoft Online, said during the keynote presentation. "All our enterprise software will be delivered as an online service, as an option," Thompson said.

However, Microsoft does not see the Azure Services Platform displacing more traditional software platforms. Most companies will want a mix of software that runs both on premises and in external datacentres, stressed Thompson, adding that the key is to be able to offer both options with no difference to the end user.

The four main components of the Azure Services Platform are: Windows Azure itself, providing a Windows-based environment for running applications and storing data on servers in Microsoft datacentres; .NET Services, linking the distributed infrastructure to applications; SQL Services, for database use; and Live Services, which links Microsoft's Live applications and provides data synchronisation, search and downloading, among other features.

Currently, applications for Azure can be developed using Microsoft's Visual Studio. The company promised support in the future for Eclipse, Python, Ruby and other open-source languages and tools. Windows Azure is currently available as a technology preview. Final pricing has not been revealed, but the company said it will be competitive.

Screenshot of the mobile social-networking app built on Windows Azure

CNET's Ina Fried contributed to this article.