Microsoft Azure Offers Developers a Path to the Cloud - Page 2

Installing the SDK was a bit annoying, especially compared with developing under competing platforms such as's AWS (Amazon Web Services) and especially Google Web Applications. I had to download the rather large SDK as well as the tools for Visual Studio. (I discovered in various forums online that many people miss the second part-the tools for Visual Studio-and get frustrated when they can't try out the walk-throughs.)

In my case, even though I already have a full installation of both SQL Server 2005 and 2008, I nevertheless had to install SQL Server 2008 Express, as this is apparently a required component. (I say "apparently" because the documentation hints that although Express is required, you might be able to get it to work with a non-Express version of SQL Server. However, I was unable to do so.)

Click here to read about how Microsoft's Azure platform could usher in the cloud as a commodity.

Once I installed all the software, however, everything went smoothly. The first walk-through took me through the creation of a simple site that is cloud-ready. (If you want to try this out as well, I'm referring to "How to: Build and Test a Web Role with Visual Studio" in the online documentation.)

You simply create a new project of type Web Cloud Service. But really, this creates two projects; one is a Cloud Compute project, and the other is an ASP.NET project. The Cloud Compute project contains information about the service you're creating.

Initially, the project doesn't really do much, as it's just a starter project. However, if you run it in the debugger, you'll see a few things happen. First, you'll see a message asking whether you want to create the database. Go ahead and click "Yes." Then there will be a delay as the system creates a database that runs under SQL Server Express. (Even though the Development Storage is nonrelational, behind the scenes it's actually stored in a SQL Server Express database. Go figure.) Next, the two tools I mentioned-Development Fabric and Development Storage-will start up. You won't really get much indication that they're running, except that icons for them will appear in the system tray in the lower-right area of your desktop, and a quick little message will pop up down there announcing that they have started. That message will soon disappear.

Next, Internet Explorer will open and you'll see a blank Web page. That's it. That's the Web page generated by the ASP.NET application running in your Development Fabric.

Now, if you're trying out the first walk-through in the documentation, you'll see a reference to a treeview. This early release documentation needs some editing, as it makes it sound like the treeview is supposed to be in the Web page. It's not. The docs are actually referring to the GUI for the Development Fabric. To see it, right-click the little icon in the tray (it looks like two gears) for the Development Fabric and click Show Development Fabric UI. This GUI shows you information about your running services, as well as an output of a log that your services can write to.

Since this first sample really doesn't do anything, next I'll try out one of the more complex samples. (For this first article, I'm just walking you through some samples so you can get a feel for how this all works. In the next article, I'll talk about actual coding and development.)