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Windows Azure update embraces large web applications

Microsoft has made its Windows Azure cloud work better with open source software and has tweaked pricing to make the service cheaper to run.The upgrades to the Windows Azure platform-as-a-service, announced on Monday, bring Node.

Microsoft has made its Windows Azure cloud work better with open source software and has tweaked pricing to make the service cheaper to run.

The upgrades to the Windows Azure platform-as-a-service, announced on Monday, bring Node.js integration via a software development kit, a limited preview of a version of Hadoop tweaked for the cloud, MongoDB compatibility, a growth in SQL database size and a price cut.

"The announcements show that there is a realisation that we are still in the early adopter stage for cloud application platforms and [demonstrate] a pragmatic approach to appeal to a wider subset of the developer community to get a foothold in this new world," Al Hilwa, programme director for application development software at IDC, told ZDNet UK on Tuesday. "The new capabilities in Azure, such as Node.js support, are designed to appeal to this new audience."

Node.js is a tool for writing scalable web applications, such as web servers. Users of the technology include eBay, LinkedIn and Yahoo. The software development kit for Node.js on Azure became available for download on Monday. Microsoft also published information for using MongoDB and node.js in tandem.

Microsoft has also capped the maximum price per gigabyte on large SQL Azure databases at $499.95 (£323.01), while announcing that their maximum size is now 150GB, up from 50GB — equivalent to a price cut of 67 percent. The costs of transferring data in the Azure cloud in the North America and Europe regions has been cut by 25 percent as well, the company said.

Developers can access a limited preview of the Apache Hadoop-based Distribution for Windows Azure to run large-scale data analysis and analytics jobs. Hadoop can be installed and set up on Windows Azure "in hours instead of days," Microsoft wrote in a blog post. Microsoft announced plans to support Hadoop on Azure in October.

However, Microsoft has some catching up to do: rival platforms-as-a-service (PaaS) from companies ranging from VMware via CloudFoundry, to Salesforce via Heroku, have offered Node.js integration for a while, along with broader language support.

"Azure is quite an innovative platform that takes a fresh, new leaf approach towards programming models from the basic Windows server model," Hilwa said. "But this very exact innovation has made it hard for existing enterprise workloads to come to Azure, instead PaaS platforms from other vendors are battling for new workloads that are the back-ends of new age mobile, social, content and gaming apps, which are being lead by a much broader ecosystem of developers and [independent software vendors] than Microsoft’s traditional base of .NET developers."