PDC: Microsoft Calls New Cloud Computing OS a 'Turning Point' for Company

At its Professional Developers Conference in Los Angeles this week, Microsoft is unveiling the end-to-end vision for its Software plus Services platform.

On Monday, key executives and partners gave a two-and-a-half-hour keynote on what Chief Software Architect Ray Ozzie termed the "back-end" infrastructure for the company's emerging cloud platform. The biggest news: Microsoft is running a kernel operating system (Project Red Dog) on its connected servers in its datacenters. The new service-based operating system is called Windows Azure.

"It's the transformation of our software, it's the transformation of our strategy and our offerings across the board to fundamentally embrace services," said Ozzie, who described the new Azure platform as a turning point for Microsoft.

Azure is Microsoft's operating system for the Web tier, he explained, joining Windows Server in the enterprise and Vista and Windows Mobile in what he called the "experience" tier.

"Windows Azure is our lowest-level foundation for building and deploying a high-scale service," Ozzie said, "providing core capabilities such as virtualized computation, scalable storage in the form of blobs, tables and streams and, perhaps most importantly, an automated service management system, a fabric controller that handles provisioning, geo-distribution and the entire lifecycle of a cloud-based service."

Services Platform
Microsoft also announced the Azure Services Platform for developers, which sits on top of Azure. It is comprised of several components including Live Services, .NET Services, SQL Services (Reporting and Data Analysis in addition to SQL Data Services which has been renamed), SharePoint Online and Dynamic CRM Online. The .NET Services, for now, consist of a service bus for connecting on-premise apps to the cloud, access control that enables federation across existing identity providers into the cloud and workflow that will be extended to cloud services.

Developers will build applications based on service models and patterns using the functionality in the Azure Service Platform and familiar tooling such as ASP.NET and Visual Studio 2008, as well as the new "Oslo" modeling platform.

The Azure platform manages apps separately from the operating system. The platform offers a simulation of the cloud for debugging and testing on the local development desktop. Developers provide Microsoft with the code for the service and the architecture of the service model, and the company provided automated service management.

Early adopters that showed Silverlight applications running on the Azure platform during the keynote and a follow-up session included Bluehoo, which highlighted a social networking mobile app that uses Bluetooth to find people in close proximity with similar interests; and FullArmor, a startup that created a Policy Portal already in use by the Ethiopian government.

First Look at Windows Azure
PDC attendees are getting a first look at the Azure SDK and key platform components, specifically Live Services, .NET Services and SQL Services. The Azure Services Platform was launched at noon PST on Monday.

The first CTP will showcase a "fraction of the features," according to Microsoft. For example the Azure storage features in the CTP support blobs, queues and simple tables, but more advanced features such field streams, caches and locks are not exposed in the preview.

Attendees can sign up and request service activation free of charge, and Microsoft will respond with a token within two weeks. After two weeks, the CTP, which supports ASP.NET and .NET languages, will become open to all MSDN subscribers, according to Microsoft. Support for native code and PHP are planned but not in the initial CTP.

"It was a surprise to me that they labeled it Windows," said one developer who works for a Fortune 100 tech company. "It wasn't Microsoft Azure, it was Windows Azure. I see this as a direct competitor to Google Code to some extent and obviously Amazon Elastic Compute Cloud.

"When you think of it, it is physical but I can't see how people can shift their trend reports from the service architecture to the cloud," he continued. "[Microsoft has] shown a Web site that says here's how you run this thing, but we haven't seen a lot of the application lifecycle. So there is a promise and it is very easy to get in, but what happens since then?"

Many developers had questions about more advanced functionality and Azure's usage in production environments today despite its status as an early preview. "Will I be able to run Windows Azure in my datacenter?" one attendee asked. The answer is no, according to Manuvir Das, director of the Azure platform at Microsoft, who said he could not comment on whether that will change.

Microsoft will be unlocking access to new capabilities in the coming months. The Azure and Azure Services Platform roadmap will be determined in part by developer feedback, the company said. Microsoft will not charge developers during the technical previews, although there is a quota for service usage. The business model for the commercial product, expected in the 2009 calendar year, will be based on applications' resource consumption and service-level agreements.

About the Author

Kathleen Richards ([email protected]) is the editor of and executive editor of Visual Studio Magazine.