Microsoft Windows Azure Cloud Platform Revealed

Microsoft joins the cloud party with an offering to compete with that of's EC2, Google's App Engine and others. The broad initiative enables developers to use the skills they possess with Visual Studio to create applications for Windows Azure. The strategy also taps Microsoft's increasing data center capacity.

LOS ANGELES-Microsoft has unveiled its broad cloud strategy, formerly known internally as "Project Red Dog" and now known as Windows Azure.

At the Microsoft Professional Developers Conference here, Ray Ozzie, Microsoft's chief software architect, announced Windows Azure, the cloud-based service foundation underlying its Azure Services Platform, and highlighted this platform's role in delivering a software-plus-services approach to computing.

Indeed, the Azure Services Platform is an industry-leading move by Microsoft to help developers build the next generation of applications that will span from the cloud to the enterprise data center and deliver compelling new experiences across the PC, Web and phone, Ozzie said.

Microsoft said developers can use the familiar Microsoft Visual Studio tools to build applications for the Windows Azure platform. Indeed, Visual Studio will have four new cloud templates to support development of Windows Azure applications, Microsoft said.

Read more about Windows Azure here.

Amitab Srivastava, vice president of the Windows Azure team, said developers need not deploy their applications to the cloud for testing.

Meanwhile, Ozzie described how the Windows Azure platform combines cloud-based developer capabilities with storage, computational and networking infrastructure services, all hosted on servers operating within Microsoft's global data center network. This provides developers with the ability to deploy applications in the cloud or on-premises and enables experiences across a broad range of business and consumer scenarios.

A limited CTP (community technology preview) of the Azure Services Platform was initially made available to developers in attendance at PDC 2008, giving them a chance to try out its features and functions and plan for their own future development. Windows Azure availability will be available first on Microsoft data centers in the United States and later abroad, Ozzie said.

Although clearly beat Microsoft to the punch in the cloud computing space, Ozzie acknowledged that Microsoft had been working on its cloud strategy back when Amazon unveiled its EC2 (Elastic Compute Cloud) offering with Srivastava and others such as Dave Cutler, Microsoft's renowned operating system developer. Ozzie said Microsoft both tips its hat and stands on the shoulders of Amazon.

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"Today marks a turning point for Microsoft and the development community," Ozzie said in a statement. "We have introduced a game-changing set of technologies that will bring new opportunities to Web developers and business developers alike. The Azure Services Platform, built from the ground up to be consistent with Microsoft's commitment to openness and interoperability, promises to transform the way businesses operate and how consumers access their information and experience the Web. Most important, it gives our customers the power of choice to deploy applications in cloud-based Internet services or through on-premises servers, or to combine them in any way that makes the most sense for the needs of their business."

Key components of the Azure Services Platform, according to Ozzie, include the following:

  • Windows Azure for service hosting and management, low-level scalable storage, computation, and networking;

  • Microsoft SQL Services for a wide range of database services and reporting;

  • Microsoft .NET Services, which are service-based implementations of familiar .NET Framework concepts such as workflow and access control;

  • Live Services for a consistent way for users to store, share and synchronize documents, photos, files and information across their PCs, phones, PC applications and Web sites; and

  • Microsoft SharePoint Services and Microsoft Dynamics CRM Services for business content, collaboration and rapid solution development in the cloud.

Microsoft officials said the Azure Services Platform provides developers with the flexibility and ability to create applications while taking advantage of their existing skills, tools and technologies such as the Microsoft .NET Framework and Visual Studio.

Moreover, developers can choose from a broad range of commercial or open-source development tools and technologies, and access the Azure Services Platform using a variety of common Internet standards, including HTTP, REST (representational state transfer), WS-* and Atom Publishing Protocol, the company said.

In addition, over the past year, Microsoft has opened major data centers in Quincy, Wash., and San Antonio, with additional centers scheduled to open in Chicago and Dublin, Ireland.

Ozzie said Microsoft is "betting on Azure ourselves, and we're bringing more and more of our key services on Azure."