Microsoft Outlines Massive Azure Additions

Microsoft's Windows Azure platform will be receiving support for both Linux and IaaS, and is refocusing its cloud offering as a hybrid product.

Microsoft's corporate VP Scott Guthrie outlined the new Windows Azure in an event today in San Francisco. In addition to offering IaaS, Microsoft is adding support for Linux servers. Though Microsoft revealed its plans late yesterday, Guthrie made it official at today's launch event and in a blog post

Guthrie described a large amount of new features to the Windows Azure platform, revealed numerous new partners  and demonstrated a cloud infrastructure that promises to lend itself to more portability between enterprise datacenters and other cloud providers.

"We are announcing the most significant release of Windows Azure yet. It elevates Azure to a new level [and] it opens it up for even more developers to use," Guthrie said. "Today's release of Windows Azure is more flexible than ever. We're supporting more operating systems, more languages, more open protocols and releasing all the Azure SDKs on GitHub under an open source license. You can now use the best of the Microsoft ecosystem and the open source ecosystem together and you can build better and more scalable solutions than ever before."

First he demonstrated the new Windows Azure portal, which provides IT pros and developers a unified view of all of the services and applications that can run in the cloud environment. Customers can drill into different services, virtual machines and storage and view stats.

Guthrie explained that enterprise customers for the first time can shift workloads from their Windows and Linux environments to Azure, pointing out that all of the virtual machines in the new Microsoft cloud will support the VHD file format.

 "Because we're running the same file format, it's really easy for you to take a VM whether it started off in your own datacenter and upgrade it into Azure," he said. "You don't have to run an import-export process, you simply upload it and enable it within Azure and it works. There's no conversion tools or agent you need to install the VM, it just works."

Guthrie also talked about the new Virtual Private Networking solution, aimed at simplifying the connectivity between Azure, enterprise data centers and other cloud providers. "What's nice about our virtual private networking solution is you can integrate it with pretty much any back end network provider," Guthrie said. "We don't require you to install any custom software on your existing enterprise network or data center. Instead we integrate with existing VPN hardware and software and interoperate well with Azure."

Among some other features Guthrie outlined:

  • Identity Services: Customers can integrate their cloud applications with their enterprise identity infrastructures, notably Active Directory. Windows Azure Active Directory, or WAAD, is a REST-based service that provides access control to cloud apps. Customers can apply existing Active Directory policies to Azure.
  • Distributed Cache: A new in-memory, low-latency distributed cache that lets customers provision dynamic scaling of capacity based on the needs of an application. "What's nice is you don't have to modify any application code or redeploy your application in order to increase or decrease the cache side," Guthrie said. It implements the memcached, distributed memory caching protocol.
  • Service bus: New secure messaging and relay capabilities is suited for integrating cloud-based solutions with enterprise apps in a secure but loosely coupled architecture. That is enabled through better tooling in Visual Studio and the introduction of cross platform libraries, allowing the service bus to work from any operating system and various languages.
  • Media Service: This new managed service is aimed at distributing media in various formats including Flash, Silverlight, HTML 5, iOS and Android. Using REST calls, customers can upload media to Azure, describe how it should be encoded and in what format and the service will be streamed to devices. Users can implement DRM as well. "It's a real compelling way to use media," Guthrie said.
  • Web sites: Will let developers build and deploy Web sites in the cloud that can scale based on ASP.NET, PHP and Node.js as well as support for WordPress, Joombla, Drupal, Umbraco and DotNetNuke.

Some key established cloud partners joined the Azure ecosystem such as cloud management vendors RightScale, ScaleXtreme and Opscode; monitoring tool suppliers AppDynamics and New Relic; NoSQL database providers 10gen (MongoDB) and Cloudant (CouchDB) and various other cloud providers including Joyent, CloudShare and Appfog.

About the Author

Jeffrey Schwartz is editor of Redmond magazine and also covers cloud computing for Virtualization Review's Cloud Report. In addition, he writes the Channeling the Cloud column for Redmond Channel Partner. Follow him on Twitter @JeffreySchwartz.