Think Way Outside the box – Microsoft’s Azure into cloud computing

Finally Microsoft has entered into the cloud business formally with Windows Azure. These are my notes from MS PDC 2008.

Executive summary:

Windows Azure is not an OS but an offering. It consists of :

  • A hosting environment to deploy your services (you define the rules & provide your code, the platform will take care of the rest!) for a spectrum of users – from hobbyists to enterprise developers
  • Automated service management (abstracts hardware, load balancing and a host of other similar functions, based on the service model you create, which has things like service topology, size, health constraints and so on)
  • Scalable storage
  • A rich developer experience(This is where Microsoft has leverage- the Azure fits seamlessly into their development environment- you can write usual code, test it in their cloud simulation environment, debug the code and then deploy it to the cloud. So the current development skills are fully transferable! The deployment is so easy “even a CEO or a VP can do it!”)
  • Windows Azure as a services layer with .NET services (service bus,access control and work flow services)
  • They also offer SQL Services, SharePoint services and CRM on this platform

Their perspective of a cloud is very simple – “A set of connected servers;on which install and run services;and store and retrieve data” – and their offerings reflect that view of the world

Their view of the business requirements on a cloud infrastructure are:

  • Interoperability and Business Processes
  • Identity and Security
  • Data management & Compliance
  • Services Management

Some quick thoughts

  • In terms of impact, Bob Muglia compares this year to PDC ’92, when Microsoft announced Widows NT
  • Microsoft characterizes this as 5th generation of computing
    • Monolithic(70s), Client Server(80s),web(90s),SOA(now)-services(2009+)
  • They are not embracing the term Cloud, but are calling it services exposed via web protocols!
  • Their motto is software + services -> The power of choice
  • They see Azure as helping to evolve existing paradigms to work with hybrid architectures
  • Also suddenly there are fabric everywhere – Azure service management fabric, development fabric,… <KS>Neiman Marcus anyone ?</KS>
  • All features are not currently available, they are “exposing functionality in a staged manner”
  • Introducing the cloud, they have a little arrogance and one would come away with the feeling that Microsoft had been at it for years ! Ray did tip his hat to Amazon and Jeff, though.
  • From a business perspective, Microsoft s formally in the infrastructure business

Gory Details:

Day 1

Ray Ozzie introduced the concepts and Azure, followed by Amitabh Srivastava, Bob Muglia and David Thompson detailing different parts of the offering.

  • Current applications have enterprise as the scope and with cloud the scope has expanded – Cloud is the externalization of IT
  • The separate roles of software developer and operations are intertwined with the cloud computing paradigm
  • While some companies have the resources required for the operation discipline to run a global infrastructure,many find it a disproportionate burden
  • Some challenges to be solved by cloud computing
    • Meeting customer expectation of interactive, participatory web systems
    • Operating across peaks and valleys
    • Continuity Issues
    • Loosely coupled architecture, data replication strategies, data partition strategies
    • Ray calls clouds “overdraft protection for your web site”
  • This “high scale internet infrastructure” is a new tier
    • Desktop Tier – scope of a single machine
    • Enterprise Systems – scope of the enterprise
    • Web Tier – scope of the web
  • Windows Azure is not an OS but Kernel of cloud platform. “Kernels do not demo very well”, so they showed demo of a few apps
  • Business View of Azure
    • Scalable infrastructure
    • Ability to manage a large global datacenter infrastructure
    • Federated DataCenter (This is one of their key themes)
    • Automated Service Management
    • Applications and OS managed separately
    • Fabric Controller manages lifecycle
  • The service model is one of the key concepts
    • That is how one defines a service declaratively. The model includes roles.channels, adaptors, interfaces, configuration setting et al
    • The service model is an XML file
  • The services bus is another important piece because it securely connects the on perm and cloud seamlessly even through firewalls
  • The have a good Identity substrate with connectors and gateways to transcend between on perm and cloud. <KS>This I thought was a good value proposition; seamless identity across enterprise and cloud is difficult. I also saw that they now support openID.Good move</KS>

Odds & Ends

  • An interesting URL!
  • Azure white paper
  • Yep, I know – Azure is not a verb. May be it should ;o)

2 thoughts on “Think Way Outside the box – Microsoft’s Azure into cloud computing

  1. I run the chance of being stupid when I say this, but they are overestimating. Microsoft is simply desperate to look like innovators. They are trying to grab the mainstream cloud computing market before it really takes hold.

    At any rate, it could easily be ten or more years before heavily regulated businesses such as healthcare and finance can possibly move this kind of cloud computing, barring some major event that makes the move necessary. As someone who works in IT in the healthcare sector, I can tell you that the ramifications of having someone else store your data (and you access it through the cloud) are pretty severe.

    But more power to them – prove me wrong and I’ll be happy.

    I will be interested to see how this turns out, but I am disappointed to see MS trying to cash in (once again) on something they didn’t start.

  2. Interesting.
    Ray calls clouds “overdraft protection for your web site”

    So, I checked out the “think way outside the box” URL… which lead me to… and firefox gave me the standard “The server at is taking too long to respond.” timeout error.

    Hmm. I think that Microsoft’s cloud/azure/… site could use some “overdraft protection” themselves.

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