Microsoft Azure Preview Portal Serves Up DevOps

By Darryl K. Taft  |  Posted 2014-04-03

Microsoft Azure Preview Portal Serves Up DevOps

SAN FRANCISCO—Microsoft announced a cloud experience that brings together cross-platform technologies, services and tools, enabling developers to innovate at startup speed via a new Microsoft Azure Preview Portal.

The new portal, along with components like Microsoft's lightweight editor code-named "Monaco" and the company's Application Insights analytics feature of Visual Studio Online, provides a unique "DevOps" experience for developers. Microsoft announced the portal preview at its Build 2014 conference here.

"Developing for a mobile-first, cloud-first world is complicated, and Microsoft is working to simplify this world without sacrificing speed, choice, cost or quality," said Scott Guthrie, executive vice president at Microsoft. "Imagine a world where infrastructure and platform services blend together in one seamless experience, so developers and IT professionals no longer have to work in disparate environments in the cloud. Microsoft has been rapidly innovating to solve this problem, and we have taken a big step toward that vision today."

S. "Soma" Somasegar, corporate vice president of Microsoft's Developer Division, said Microsoft is intent on delivering "a fantastic cloud platform as well as a great platform for you to be able to build applications and services and deploy them. That goes hand in hand with the cloud tools in Azure. We give you a great set of cloud-focused development tools in Visual Studio and to help developers deliver on the cloud we offer Visual Studio Online."

Somasegar said Microsoft has seen some "phenomenal" usage and adoption of Visual Studio Online from its customers.

"We now have more than a million users on Visual Studio Online," he said. "In the last four months we saw a 3x increase in users. One metric is the number of requests that come through our service. We are serving 100 million requests per day, and we've crossed the 2 billion mark in terms of number of requests."

When Microsoft launched Visual Studio Online last November, it launched in a preview form; it is now generally available.

"We feel like now we've made enough progress and got enough traction to announce the GA of VS Online," Somasegar said. "Part of the ability to deliver the VS Online service is we will commit to a 99.9 percent availability from an SLA perspective. This is significant because I think this is a first of its kind for a developer service in the world, period."

Microsoft is taking its Microsoft Azure platform and Visual Studio Online and bringing them together "to provide a fantastic end-to-end experience from a developer perspective in a single portal. Think of it as a preview of the next-generation portal where you bring all the goodness of the application platform and the goodness of tools and services together so that you enable a single portal both for developers and IT pros to think of DevOps in an end-to-end way," Somasegar told eWEEK. "We are super-excited about this because we think we are doing something here that is significantly more valuable to our customers than pretty much anything."

The advantages of the new Microsoft Azure Preview Portal are that Microsoft provides an end-to-end application lifecycle management solution, starting from an idea to writing a service to debugging and deployment.

"The second thing is we allow you to get diagnostics and telemetry data through Application Insights," Somasegar said." And rather than letting you see it on a service-by-service-by-service basis, we let you take an application-centric view and give you all the information that you need about your full application."

Microsoft Azure Preview Portal Serves Up DevOps

"The portal change is a good first step in blending the developer experience of their IaaS [infrastructure-as-a-service] and PaaS [platform-as-a-service] services," James Staten, an analyst with Forrester Research, told eWEEK." You could already mix and match, but it was less intuitive. Developers tell us they want to easily mix abstracted and raw infrastructure services based on their needs, and the new portal approach helps. 

"This is similar to why Google announced Managed VMs, so you could convert a PaaS app to IaaS so you could change its configuration," Staten said. "But the value developers want is more about mix and match than migrate or convert from PaaS to IaaS. This is less about DevOps enablement than about improving developer productivity."

Microsoft delivered a limited version of Application Insights in November and now is making it generally available. The company is providing performance and reliability data about users' applications and also providing usage analysis and usage data about Websites, Web services and applications, including Windows Store apps. App Insights also gives users information from their log files.

What sets Microsoft apart from others in DevOps, Somasegar said, is "we take an end-to-end view on application lifecycle management. If you say you want to start writing some code, we are going to give you a set of tools and services that enable you to start right from ideation all the way to deployment. You think about the workflow, think about source code systems, think about issue tracking, think about bug tracking, think about being able to build, think about debugging, think about continuous deployment. … You think about all the things you need to go through; we provide you with a set of end-to-end services and tools that enable you to do that."

Moreover, once you deploy your app and you want to know how well it is running and how users are doing with it and what are they using, App Insights gives you all that information about what is happening when your app is deployed, he said.

"And that information is fed back to you as a developer so you can think about what you want to prioritize  and focus on and what you want to focus on in the next version of your app," Somasegar said.

"We give you end-to-end apps and services, but we also want to make it easy for you to use other products or components so you can pick and choose what you want to do," he added.

Those are reasons the Microsoft DevOps solution is "going to be much better than what others have to offer," Somasegar said. "We really don't think about the platform and the DevOps solution as two different things. We think about it as one thing. We want to give you an application platform, and we want to give you a DevOps solution that is highly integrated with the platform so that you have a seamless workflow for continuous deployment and continuous feedback. That's where we have an advantage."

"Dominion Powersports Solutions has been using VSO Application Insights since it first was released in preview in November, and we've been very impressed with it," said Ray Escamilla, a software developer with Dominion Powersports Solutions, a division of Dominion Enterprises.

Microsoft Azure Preview Portal Serves Up DevOps

"We use it on a daily basis for monitoring our clients' Web properties, analyzing performance events or error events, and our quality assurance team looks at those events to determine if we have an issue," Escamilla told eWEEK. "Often, we're able to identify and resolve potential issues, before they can actually be seen in production. We have set up several alerts that inform us of things like high page latency, and we're able to work out the issues right as they come up.

"Application Insights keeps us informed of key issues before anything goes wrong. We are able to quickly drill down into the root cause and evaluate the cost-back for fixes. This is all something that might have taken days to reproduce in a traditional debugging scenario."

Since beginning to use Application Insights, his company has developed its own DevOps group within its Dev/Test and Management sites, Escamilla said. "Having all of that data from our tools shared between the key stakeholders is a big advantage for the entire process with developing and deploying solutions," he said.

Somasegar said because Microsoft is launching the Microsoft Azure Portal in preview, users with existing Azure and Visual Studio Online accounts will have to create a new account for the portal, and their existing accounts will not sync with the new one.

However, "Over time we will make sure your existing account will line up with the new portal, but for now the new portal is a place to get to know the system, and you won't see your existing VS Online account automatically migrating now," Somasegar said.

The new Microsoft Azure Preview Portal provides a fully integrated experience that will enable customers to develop and manage an application in one place, using the platform and tools of their choice. The new portal combines all the components of a cloud application into a single development and management experience.

Rather than managing stand-alone resources such as Microsoft Azure Web Sites, Visual Studio Projects or databases, customers can now create, manage and analyze their entire application as a single resource group in a unified experience, greatly reducing complexity while enabling scale. Today the new Azure resource manager is also being released via the latest Azure SDK for customers to automate their deployment and management from any client or device.

Microsoft also is offering a new integrated billing experience that enables developers and IT pros to take control of their costs and optimize their resources for maximum business advantage.

In addition, a rich gallery of application and services from Microsoft and the open-source community—an integrated marketplace of free and paid services—enables customers to leverage the ecosystem to be more agile and productive.

Moreover, Microsoft announced key enhancements through the Microsoft Azure Preview Portal, available today. These include Team Projects supporting greater agility for application lifecycle management and the Monaco lightweight editor for modifying and committing Web project code changes without leaving Azure. Also included is its Application Insights analytics solution that collects telemetry data such as availability, performance and usage information to track an application's health. Visual Studio integration enables developers to surface this data from new applications with a single click.

Showcasing Microsoft's commitment to choice and flexibility, the company announced new open-source partnerships with Chef and Puppet Labs to run configuration management technologies in Azure Virtual Machines. Using these community-driven technologies, customers will now be able to more easily deploy and configure in the cloud. In addition, today Microsoft announced the release of Java Applications to Microsoft Azure Web Sites, giving Microsoft even broader support for Web applications.

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