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Windows Azure: What’s New?

Now that PDC is over and all the announcements are out, I want to share my viewpoint and insights into what was announced at PDC last week. Most of the features that got announced are not available yet and will be in CTP form early next year. Here is a quick summary of what’s coming to Windows Azure in the near future. There are broadly classified into platform enhancements, enterprise features and developer productivity.

Cloud Services

Platform Enhancements

  • VM Role – Web Role and Worker Role are boilerplate VMs to do specific kind of tasks. VM Role is a very generic VM that can be customized to run anything including legacy applications. VM Role will support Windows Server 2008 R2 images initially with support for other versions of Windows Server in the pipe. It is not clear if VM Role will run non-Windows OS images.
  • Admin Mode – Through this mode, you can gain more control by running MSI or installing custom software during the startup phase of a VM. This will bring more control to Web Role and the Worker Role without compromising the flexibility of automated management capabilities.
  • Full IIS Support – Till now, the Web Role ran a Hosted Web Core to host web applications. It was not a symmetrical web stack that typically runs on a Web Server. By supporting full IIS capabilities, developers can host multiple websites and tweak the web application platform like the way they do it on a Web Server.
  • Extra Small Instances – This is a new size of VM that costs only $0.05 / hour. This is great for playing with the platform or to spin a bunch of VMs for parallel processing. Applications can be deployed in Extra Small Instances during debugging /testing and can be sized appropriately for the production.

Enterprise Features

  • Cross Premise Connectivity – Enterprises can easily and securely extend their IP subnet to Azure VMs. This delivers on the promise of Windows Azure as an extended data center. When combined this with the VM Role features, this is a killer offering for the enterprises. Major concerns like security, latency and seamless integration with on-premise integration will be addressed through this feature.
  • Join VMs to Domain – VMs running within Windows Azure can join an existing Active Directory domain in an enterprise. With this, authentication and authorization becomes easy and powerful. Even internal line of business applications that depend on NTLM authentication can be moved to Windows Azure.
  • System Center Monitoring Management Pack – Through this, enterprises can manage and monitor the health of Azure VMs through the familiar System Center Operations Manager console. This is a great feature for instrumenting and managing the health of apps running within Windows Azure.

Developer Productivity

  • Enhanced Developer Portal – Built using Silverlight, the new Windows Azure developer portal offers a refreshing interface to manage the cloud infrastructure. It is faster, powerful and flexible to manage Windows Azure (Compute & Storage), SQL Azure and AppFabric features.
  • Remote Desktop – This is a killer feature! With this the administrator can log on to a running Web Role or a Worker Role to interactively configure and manage the instance. This will reduce the friction in managing and deploying apps on Azure.
  • Enhanced Developer Tools – There are a lot of enhancements to the Dev Fabric, Visual Studio tools and even Eclipse. Dev Fabric will support VM Role and updating content in a Web Role without redeploying the whole application. PHP and Java SDK for Windows Azure is also refreshed.

Through these announcements Microsoft made a strong statement that they are serious about Cloud. Here are some underlying messages that come out:

  • Blur the line between IaaS and PaaS – Microsoft never over emphasized on Windows Azure being just a PaaS platform. The plans of baking custom VMs into Windows Azure were there from day one. Today it is hard to qualify Windows Azure as just PaaS or IaaS. It is actually both!
  • Windows Azure is the true Cloud OS – Taking off from the initial vision that Ray Ozzie articulated in PDC 2008, Windows Azure has emerged as the true Cloud OS that powers the whole datacenter. So, Windows Azure to datacenter is what Windows is to the Server. Windows Internal’s guru, Mark Russinovich’s Inside Windows Azure talk emphasized this fact in many words.
  • Go head-on with Amazon – This is very clear! Windows Azure Platform has many pieces that are directly comparable and compete with Amazon Web Services. With VM Role, Extra Small VM Size, Cross-Premise Connectivity and a host of other features Windows Azure brings parity with Amazon Web Services.
  • Establish Azure as the first and only generic PaaS – Microsoft is serious about on-boarding the PHP and the Java community on Windows Azure. The investments in Eclipse plug-in, PHP SDK and the Java SDK will payback Microsoft in the longer run. Windows Azure is truly becoming a meta-platform that can support popular runtimes and platforms including .NET, Java and PHP.
  • Appeal to enterprises – Finally, there is a convincing and compelling story that Microsoft can tell the enterprises on why they should embrace Windows Azure. AppFabric, VM Role, Remote Desktop, Cross-Premise connectivity and other features reduce the barriers for enterprise adoption.

Overall, I am very excited with the new opportunities that Windows Azure brings to the industry and the enterprises!

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Janakiram MSV heads the Cloud Infrastructure Services at Aditi Technologies. He was the founder and CTO of Get Cloud Ready Consulting, a niche Cloud Migration and Cloud Operations firm that recently got acquired by Aditi Technologies. In his current role, he leads a highly talented engineering team that focuses on migrating and managing applications deployed on Amazon Web Services and Microsoft Windows Azure Infrastructure Services.
Janakiram is an industry analyst with deep understanding of Cloud services. Through his speaking, writing and analysis, he helps businesses take advantage of the emerging technologies. He leverages his experience of engaging with the industry in developing informative and practical research, analysis and authoritative content to inform, influence and guide decision makers. He analyzes market trends, new products / features, announcements, industry happenings and the impact of executive transitions.
Janakiram is one of the first few Microsoft Certified Professionals on Windows Azure in India. Demystifying The Cloud, an eBook authored by Janakiram is downloaded more than 100,000 times within the first few months. He is the Chief Editor of a popular portal on Cloud called www.CloudStory.in that covers the latest trends in Cloud Computing. Janakiram is an analyst with the GigaOM Pro analyst network where he analyzes the Cloud Services landscape. He is a guest faculty at the International Institute of Information Technology, Hyderabad (IIIT-H) where he teaches Big Data and Cloud Computing to students enrolled for the Masters course. As a passionate speaker, he has chaired the Cloud Computing track at premier events in India.
He has been the keynote speaker at many premier conferences, and his seminars are attended by thousands of architects, developers and IT professionals. His sessions are rated among the best in every conference he participates.
Janakiram has worked at the world-class product companies including Microsoft Corporation, Amazon Web Services and Alcatel-Lucent. Joining as the first employee of Amazon Web Services in India, he was the AWS Technology Evangelist. Prior to that, Janakiram spent 10 years at Microsoft Corporation where he was involved in selling, marketing and evangelizing the Microsoft Application Platform and Tools.