Windows Azure's spring fling: Linux comes to Microsoft's cloud

Microsoft is peeling back the covers, at long last, of its Windows Azure spring update, with new Linux VM and hosting framework support.
Written by Mary Jo Foley, Senior Contributing Editor

It's official: Those Linux on Azure and and other goodies that have been on Redmond's cloud roadmap for months (and in some cases, years) finally are coming to a Microsoft cloud near you.

Microsoft officials went public with details on its Windows Azure spring update a day ahead of a Webcast slated to detail all the announcements via a blog post from Server and Cloud chief Bill Laing.

Laing's post made it clear Windows Azure is no longer a pure platform-as-a-service (PaaS) play, if it ever really was one. Now it also has elements of infrastructure-as-a-service, which Microsoft is hoping will make Azure more appealing to developers and users of Amazon Web Services and other existing and coming cloud platforms.

With the Spring update, the Softies are out to drive home the idea that Microsoft is serious about supporting not just its own, but third-party and open-source languages and stacks with Windows Azure. Microsoft already supported Linux, Java, PHP and other non-Microsoft technologies on Azure to varying degrees. But with the spring update, that support is now more deeply baked into the platform in a way that is meant to attract developers and customers of all stripes.

Microsoft is allowing users to bring certain Linux and Windows Server images (including SQL Server and SharePoint) to Azure in persistent virtual machines (VMs). Update: The new persistent VMs will allow users to run OpenSUSE 12.1, CentOS 6.2, Ubuntu 12.04 and SUSE Linux Enterprise Server 11 SP2. They also will allow users to run Windows Server 2008 R2 and the Windows Server 2012 Release Candidate.

Another key piece of today's announcement is Antares, which is a new hosting framework that Microsoft has built for Windows Azure and Windows Server.

Antares -- officially known as Windows Azure Web Sites -- includes updated REST programming interfaces that will allow developers to do more programatically and systematically. Microsoft is encouraging developers to use this framework to seamlessly move existing apps and services -- including those hosted on other rival clouds -- to Azure.

Besides the persistent VM and hosting framework, what else is Microsoft announcing as part of this week's Azure unveiling?

Windows Azure Virtual Network: a feature allowing the provisioning and management of VPNs in Azure, and to extend securely on-premises networks into the cloud. I believe this is the Azure Connect offering, originally codenamed Project Sydney, which was supposed to be out before the end of 2011 in final form.

More cross-platform interoperability: Availability of an update to the Eclipse plugin for Java, MongoDB integration, Memcached using non-.NET languages, and code configuration for hosting Solr/Lucene. See the new post on Microsoft's Port 25 blog for more details.

Windows Azure SQL Reporting: This is the renamed and finally available SQL Azure Reporting Services feature. It's the cloud complement to SQL Server Reporting Services.

Updated Windows Azure software development kit (SDK): Now with new command-line tools that work on Mac or Linux operating systems. Cross another one off the Azure cloud roadmap. Done!

On a related note, Red Hat also made a hybrid cloud announcement today. The Microsoft rival declared its CloudForms Infrastructure-as-a-Service hybrid cloud management platform is now generally available. And Oracle also jumped into the cloud fray today, as well, with announcement of a bunch of tangibles (and aspirations) for its public-cloud Oracle Cloud.

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