Microsoft Adds Infrastructure-as-a-Service Support to Azure Cloud Platform

Microsoft also announces broader support for Linux operating systems in enterprise cloud environments, a big step for the open-source OS Microsoft once considered an unwelcome rival.

Microsoft has provided greater technical details about the upgrades to Windows Azure, which the company says makes it an infrastructure as a service (IaaS) as well as a platform as a service (PaaS).

Developers, system administrators and other IT professionals were given a deep dive into Azure€™s new services via a Webcast the afternoon of June 7 that also presented a discussion on how Microsoft is providing Linux operating system support in Azure alongside Windows within the Azure cloud environment.

Scott Guthrie, corporate vice president of the Windows Azure application platform, demonstrated how new virtual machines could be created using a simple Wizard process and deployed on any server available. He described the Azure portal experience as €œa really powerful and flexible way to do it.€

"There€™s full support directly in the portal for creating any number of virtual machines using images we provide. Just like on a Windows machine, I can configure this Linux-based VM, capture it as a reusable image, then basically create any new number of VMs based on that and have everything preinstalled when I create it,€ Guthrie said.

He also demonstrated how VMs created in Azure can be backed up to virtual storage as well as a feature called €œContinuous Geo-Replication€ for automatically backing up VMs operating in one data center to another data center miles away for disaster recovery purposes.

Besides the latest Windows Server versions supported in Azure, including the Server 2012 release candidate, Microsoft identified these Linux OSes that will also be supported: OpenSUSE 12.1, CentOS-6.2, Ubuntu 12.04 and SUSE Linux Enterprise Server 11, SP2.

Among the new Azure services coming from Microsoft are the following:

Windows Azure Virtual Machines€”Virtual Machines will allow an enterprise to move its virtual hard disks (VHDs) back and forth between on-premises and the cloud. Users can transfer workloads such as SQL Server or SharePoint to the cloud or manage customized Windows Servers or Linux images.

Windows Azure Virtual Network€”This feature allows users to provision virtual private networks (VPNs) in Windows Azure to move between on-premises and cloud environments. It provides control over such things as network topology, configuration of IP addresses and security policies and using the industry-standard IPSEC protocol.

Windows Azure Web Sites€”This site building service supports .NET, Node.js and PHP using common deployment techniques like Git and FTP. It will also enable deployment of open-source applications like WordPress, Joomla, DotNetNuke, Umbraco and Drupal in a cloud environment.

New tools, language support and SDK€”The Windows Azure SDK adds new developer capabilities for Java, PHP and .NET, as well as the addition of Python as a supported language on Windows Azure. The SDK also provides support for both Windows and the Macintosh.

Increased Global Availability€”Windows Azure is being expanded to customers in 48 new countries, including Russia, South Korea, Taiwan, Egypt and Ukraine, for a total of 89 countries and 19 different currencies.

Microsoft is partnering with a number of organizations, many of them representing various Linux distributions, to support the new Azure IaaS offering. Another partner, RightScale, a cloud management service provider, explained during the Webcast how it will integrate with Azure.

€œMicrosoft clearly knows how to run global, cloud-scale infrastructure with a high degree of operational excellence,€ said Michael Crandell, CEO of RightScale. €œThis is a cloud that we and our customers can count on.€

Crandell also said the integration of IaaS with PaaS €œis really an industry first, and it provides an entire environment for the development and deployment of apps that we think is going to be very powerful.€

He also noted that Azure€™s support of Linux €œis a clear commitment by Microsoft to openness.€

Microsoft originally considered open-source Linux to be an interloper, unfairly undercutting Microsoft€™s proprietary software model. But in more recent years, Microsoft has come to see open source as a permanent fixture in the tech industry and has enabled greater interoperability with open source and Windows software. Microsoft offered interoperability with SUSE Linux at the Open Source Business Conference in San Francisco May 21.

Editor's Note: This story was updated to correct a quote by Michael Crandell, CEO of RightScale.