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Microsoft Puts Spotlight on Azure at Build

Microsoft has strong ambitions for its Azure public cloud service, with 12 datacenters now in operation around the globe -- including two launched last week in China -- and an additional 16 datacenters planned by year's end.

At this week's Build conference in San Francisco, Microsoft showed how serious it is about advancing Azure. 

Scott Guthrie, Microsoft's newly promoted executive VP for cloud and enterprise, said Azure is already used by 57 percent of Fortune 500 companies and has 300 million users (with most of them enterprise users registered with Active Directory). Guthrie also boasted that Azure runs 250,000 public-facing Web sites, hosts 1 million SQL databases with 20 trillion objects now stored in the Azure storage system, and processes 13 billion authentications per week.

Guthrie also claimed that 1 million developers have registered with the Azure-based Visual Studio Online service since its debut in November. This would be great if the vast majority have done more than just register. While Amazon gets to tout its large users, including its showcase Netflix account, Guthrie pointed to the scale of Azure, which hosts the popular "Titanfall" game launched last month for the Xbox gaming platform and PCs. Titanfall kicked off with 100,000 virtual machines on launch day, he noted.

Guthrie also brought NBC executive Rick Cordella to talk about the hosting of the Sochi Olympic games in February. More than 100 million people viewed the online service with 2.1 million concurrently watching the men's U.S.-vs.-Canada hockey match, which was "a new world record for HD streaming," Guthrie said.

Cordella noted that NBC invested $1 billion on this year's games and said it represented the largest digital event ever. "We need to make sure that content is out there, that it's quality [and] that our advertisers and advertisements are being delivered to it," he told the Build audience. "There really is no going back if something goes wrong," Cordella said.

Now that Azure has achieved scale, Guthrie and his team are rolling out a bevy of significant enhancements aimed at making the service appealing to developers, operations managers and their administrators. As IT teams move to a more "DevOps" model, Microsoft is taking that into consideration as it builds out the Azure service promises to broaden its appeal.

Among the Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS) improvements, Guthrie pointed to the availability of the auto-scaling as a service, point-to-site VPN support, dynamic routing, subnet migration, static internal IP addressing and Traffic Manager for Web sites. "We think the combination of this really gives you a very flexible environment, a very open environment, and lets you run pretty much any Windows or Linux workload in the cloud," Guthrie said.

Azure is a more flexible environment for those overseeing devops, thanks to the new support for configuring virtual machine images using the popular Puppet and Chef configuration management and automation tools used on other services such as Amazon and OpenStack. IT can also now use Microsoft's PowerShell and VSD tools.

Mark Russinovich,  a Microsoft cloud and enterprise group technical fellow, demonstrated how to create VMs using Visual Studio and templates based on Chef and Puppet. He was joined by Puppet Labs CEO Luke Kanies during the demo.

"These tools enable you to avoid having to create and manage lots of separate VM images," Guthrie said. "Instead, you can define common settings and functionality using modules that can cut across every type of VM you use."

Perhaps the most significant criticism of Azure is that it's still a proprietary platform. In a move to shake that image, Guthrie announced a number of significant open source efforts. Notably, Microsoft made its Roslyn .NET compiler and other components of its .NET Framework components open source through the aptly titled .NET Foundation.

"It's really going to be the foundation upon which we can actually contribute even more of our projects and code into open source," Guthrie said of the new .NET Foundation. "All of the Microsoft contributions have standard open source licenses, typically Apache 2, and none of them have any platform restrictions, meaning you can actually take these libraries and you can run them on any platform. We still have, obviously, lots of Microsoft engineers working on each of these projects. This now gives us the flexibility where we can actually look at suggestions and submissions from other developers, as well, and be able to integrate them into the mainline products."

Among some other notable announcements from Guthrie regarding Azure:

  • Revamped Windows Azure Portal: Now available in preview form, the new portal is "designed to radically speed up the software delivery process by putting cross-platform tools, technologies and services from Microsoft and its partners in a single workspace," wrote Azure general manager Steven Martin in a blog post. "The new portal significantly simplifies resource management, so you can create, manage, and analyze your entire application as a single resource group rather than through standalone resources like Azure Web Sites, Visual Studio Projects or databases. With integrated billing, a rich gallery of applications and services and built-in Visual Studio Online you can be more agile while maintaining control of your costs and application performance."

  • Azure Mobile Services: Offline sync is now available. "You can now write your mobile backend logic using ASP.NET Web API and Visual Studio, taking full advantage of Web API features, third-party Web API frameworks and local and remote debugging," Martin noted. "With Active Directory Single Sign-on integration (for iOS, Android, Windows, or Windows Phone apps) you can maximize the potential of your mobile enterprise applications without compromising on secure access."

  • New Azure SDK: Microsoft released the Azure SDK 2.3, making it easier to deploy VMs or sites.

  • Single sign-on to SaaS apps via Azure Active Directory Premium is now generally available.

  • Now including one IP address-based SSL certificate and five SNI-based SSL certs at no additional cost for each site instance.

  • The Visual Studio Online collaboration as a service is now generally available and free for up to five users in a team.

  • While Azure already supported .NET, Node.Js PHP and Python, it now supports the native Java language thanks to its partnership with Oracle that was announced last year.

My colleague Keith Ward, editor in chief of sister publication Visual Studio Magazine, has had trouble in the past finding developers who embraced Azure. But he now believes that could change. "Driving all this integration innovation is Microsoft Azure; it's what really allows the magic to happen," he said in a blog post Friday. Furthermore, he Tweeted: "At this point, I can't think of a single reason why a VS dev would use Amazon instead of Azure."

Are you finding Microsoft Azure and the company's Cloud OS hybrid platforms more appealing?

Posted by Jeffrey Schwartz on 04/04/2014 at 1:21 PM


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