Windows in the cloud and a services offering from Microsoft

Los Angeles – Microsoft Corp. (NASDAQ: MSFT) used this year’s Professional Developer’s Conference to announce Windows Azure, a new services-based operating environment for what Ray Ozzie, Microsoft’s chief software architect is calling “Windows in the cloud.”

Windows Azure, he said, is not software, but rather is a service platform that runs on a vast number of machines. It’s an open platform system that scales out by being able to host a variety of services in the cloud. With Azure, developers can scale, build and manage Web applications in the cloud by taking advantage of the computation and storage capabilities offered through Microsoft’s data centres.

“As the system scales out, we’ll build more key services onto Windows Azure,” Ozzie said. “It’ll be our highest scale, most economical and most environmentally-friendly way of hosting services in the cloud.”

Dave Thompson, corporate vice-president of Microsoft Online at Microsoft, said many customers face challenges today such as staying up to date with minimal IT resources, while enabling both high security and high availability.

“By moving things in the cloud online, you can get to market faster because you don’t have to worry about deploying servers,” Thompson said.

Amitabh Srivastava, corporate vice-president of cloud, infrastructure and services at Microsoft, said the Windows Azure platform allows developers to build “killer” applications.

“We’re providing a scalable hosting environment for (developers) to deploy (their own) applications in our cloud,” he said. “Unlike traditional operating systems that manage a single machine, Windows Azure has an operating system for the cloud that manages the entire global data centre infrastructure.”

Windows Azure is built to be highly available and also offers developers a seamless transition to the platform since code can be written and tested on machines using existing and familiar Microsoft technologies, Srivastava said.

“Windows Azure leverages Microsoft’s current tools to ensure (developer’s) skills sets are transferred to the cloud,” he said. “It’s an open platform that also works with both managed and native code. There are lots of opportunities (for developers) to take Azure Services and Windows Azure to grow and build out applications,” he added.

Syd Millett, director of Infusion Development, an IT-related service consulting and developing company headquartered in New York, with Canadian offices in Toronto and Waterloo, Ont., and also a Microsoft Gold Certified Partner, said the company has been working with Azure through Live Mesh, Microsoft’s data synchronization system for the past three months.

“Azure is optimized for the cloud so you’re not bound to a single device or machine,” he said. “The key thing for us is we’re building solutions for clients that take advantage of Live Services. We’re able to offer rich user experiences, which is something that wasn’t possible before Azure came out.”

Along with its Windows Azure platform, Microsoft also announced as part of its software plus services strategy (S+S), its new Azure Services Platform, which gives developers the flexibility to create their own applications using technologies such as Visual Studio and the Microsoft .NET Framework. Within the Azure Services Platform, customers can also take advantage of Microsoft’s Live Services in order to store, share and synchronize data, files and images across PCs, devices and on the Web.

Mark Relph, vice-president of the developer and platform evangelism group at Microsoft Canada, explained S+S is Microsoft’s core philosophy that will get melded into everything the company does moving forward. In the instance of moving services to the cloud, he said software and services can be scaled out very rapidly.

“Azure is the platform that lets people innovate and scale out with,” Relph explains.

Microsoft’s S+S approach is not to be confused with software-as-a-service (SaaS), though, Relph continued.

“The distinction with the SaaS and S+S moniker is that at the end of the day, SaaS is still software,” he said. “SaaS is a delivery mechanism that doesn’t change what the software does. S+S is a design philosophy element and is how Microsoft is moving forward in the market. Software might be local, or it might be delivered as a service, or as a combination of both.”

Warren Shiau, senior associate and lead analyst for IT research at The Strategic Counsel, a Toronto-based market research firm, said in Canada, hosted services have been something that hasn’t really taken off.

“Our nature is generally more conservative now,” Shiau said. “Although hosted offerings have gotten much more popular as an offering, that doesn’t necessarily translate to take up by customers. With cloud offerings, there are wider and broader opportunities for ISVs. We’ll see cloud doing better than hosted in terms of take up, but that will take time because developers will have to start building it up.”

Ozzie says Windows Azure will be competitively priced with the marketplace and Microsoft’s Azure Services offerings will be available through the Web, and the company’s existing channels. He did not make any mention of a release date or cost for either offering.

“We believe deeply in the potential of this emergent world of services in the cloud,” he said. “With Windows Azure, a service-based OS and Windows in the cloud, we’re giving business developers and hobbyists a platform that ultimately gives customers the power of choice and flexibility.”

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Maxine Cheung
Maxine Cheung
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