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Azure to Go Live, Will Developers Care? December 11, 2009

Posted by Peter Varhol in Architectures, Software platforms, Strategy.

Microsoft’s Windows Azure platform, arguably the most integrated of the emerging value-added stacks for cloud computing, is slated to leave the community technology preview (CTP) phase and become a production service on New Year’s Day.  Independent consultant David Chappell provides a short and lucid explanation of the platform and its components here (PDF document).

In a nutshell, the Azure platform consists of the Windows Azure operating system (which includes a RESTful data management mechanism), the .NET Framework and .NET services, and SQL Azure (Microsoft has since announced tools for managing applications in Azure also).  Rather than uploading an entire OS image, developers can simple install their code, and use these services as is, without the need to include them in an image.

The data services are particularly useful, as the more generic commercial clouds are struggling to come up with a way of providing such services that are useful to large numbers of potential customers.  This problem is one of the drivers of the “no-SQL” movement, which uses technologies such as MapReduce and MemcacheDB to manage data being processed in the cloud.  While no-SQL has some popularity with developers, it is largely a non-starter with production IT, which has built data center infrastructures surrounding SQL.

Because many, if not most, Microsoft developers and Microsoft data centers use Microsoft SQL Server, offering SQL services provides an easy way of meeting the needs of many users.  Conversely, with Java, a broad mix of both commercial and open source databases are in active use.

Developers seem to be generating the most interest in cloud computing at this time.  Last spring, a keynote at the Eclipse Conference described how a few developers with an idea for a server used Amazon’s EC2 to bootstrap development without the expense of buying racks of servers in-house.

At the Microsoft PDC last month, Ray Ozzie spoke of tens of thousands of developers trying the Azure CTP.  I am the last person to suggest that a Microsoft spokesperson engage in hyperbole, but it’s not clear what that number represents – those who have obtained an account, those who have uploaded code, those who are actively running Azure applications, or something else entirely.

I am skeptical because there doesn’t seem to be a whole lot of incentive for Microsoft shops to deploy production applications to the cloud.  Most of these applications are single-server type, and virtualization has enabled more of those applications to easily run on a single server in the data center.  There may be some value in development groups use Azure as a part of their development and test environment, but there may be resistance to development on a platform different from the deployment environment.

This is not to take away from Microsoft’s initiative, which in most respects looks innovative and responsive to the needs of those who want to develop and deploy in the cloud.  But let’s see how many actually use it right off the bat before we decide it was the best use of the company’s intellectual resources.



1. Is Microsoft Cool Again? « Cutting Edge Computing - March 2, 2010

[…] also think Microsoft Windows Azure is a leader in integrated stacks for cloud computing, but Microsoft has done little to promote […]

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