What's in (and missing from) Microsoft's latest batch of Azure cloud updates

Microsoft has delivered a number of new quarterly updates to its Windows Azure and SQL Azure cloud platforms. But some promised pieces still are missing in action.
Written by Mary Jo Foley, Senior Contributing Editor

Microsoft has rolled out its latest batch of Windows Azure and SQL Azure updates, company officials said on December 12.

The updates include final delivery of some open-source-related functionality, including a limited preview of the Windows Azure Hadoop service for which Microsoft announced plans earlier this fall.

Here's what is in the Windows Azure December update:

A Windows Azure software development kit (SDK) featuring the libraries for Node.JS. The SDK is available on Github.

A preview of an Apache Hadoop-based service for Windows Azure (which Microsoft is developing in conjunction with Hortonworks. This promised Hadoop Azure Community Technology Preview will be available later during the week of December 12 to some unspecified but limited set of customers later this week (those interested should apply here). The preview will allow customers to install and set up Hadoop on Azure "in hours instead of days," according to a Microsoft blog post. It also will include new JavaScript libraries enabling developers to build MapReduce jobs using the Hadoop-based service on Windows Azure. And it will also include a Hive ODBC driver and Hive add-in for Excel. Other open source updates, including an update to the Windows Azure Plugin for Eclipse with Java that was released in June. There's also support for a preview of the MongoDB NoSQL database on Windows Azure and support for the Memecached open-source caching server on Azure, too.

New billing updates that include a "completely free" 90-day trial period, with spending caps designed to simplify the sign-up process. Updated Windows Azure Management portal for viewing in real-time of usage and billing. The new portal has a Metro-style user interface with deeper drill-down capabilities. Azure expert Roger Jennings has lots of screen shots and more info on the portal on his blog.

Here's what's in the SQL Azure December update (all features Microsoft outlined as coming earlier this fall):

An expansion by three times of the maximum database size for SQL Azure (at no additional cost, the Softies say)

Support for SQL Azure Federation, allowing databases to scale out elastically and be managed with greater ease using a new sharding pattern.

New price cap for the largest SQL Azure databases, which Microsoft officials say lowers the effective price per gigabyte by 67 percent. They also are saying they've cut Data Transfer prices in North America and Europe by 25 percent, and made Service Bus usage free through March 2012 (to give customers time to adjust to new two-tiered pricing coming in April).

There are a handful of other promised cloud-infrastructure Microsoft officials said to expect before the end of this year but which still seem to be missing in action. I wrote about these earlier this fall, and pointed to a Microsoft Azure diagram dating back to June 2011, which showed these as still being on Microsoft's 2011 roadmap:


(click on diagram to enlarge)

Here's what still seems to be missing from the promised Windows Azure and SQL Azure feature lists:

VM Role support: When Microsoft described this capability last year, officials talked about Azure being able to “construct VM Role images in the cloud.” They announced plans to support a VM Role along the same lines as the existing Azure Web and Worker roles. Though VM Role exists in Microsoft literature and in mentions on its Web site, it seems to still be in beta only (best I can tell). I don’t think there’s been any update on the ability to construct VM-Role images in the cloud. VM Role could give Microsoft a way to deliver some really wild and crazy things -- maybe even Linux on Azure -- to make its service more of a head-to-head competitor with Amazon Web Services (at least in theory).

Server application virtualization support: Earlier this year, word came down that Server App-V still was on track to be added to Azure before the end of 2011 (perhaps around the same time the same capability would be available via System Center Virtual Machine Manager 2012, which supposedly is set to RTM some time before the end of this year).

SQL Azure Reporting Services (final build): Microsoft released another public CTP build of SQL Azure Reporting Services on October 13, but there’s still no update on when the final will be ready.

I've asked Microsoft officials for an update on these three promised cloud deliverables, but so far, no word back.

Editorial standards