Microsoft Pumps Windows Azure as Top Cloud Choice for Developers

Microsoft's Windows Azure is for developers. The company's "general purpose" cloud computing platform offers developers more flexibility and choice than any other at the developer tools level, Microsoft officials said.

WASHINGTON - Microsoft's Windows Azure is for developers.

Well, that is what the head of Microsoft's Windows Azure team said. Microsoft has positioned Windows Azure as the "general purpose" cloud platform. At the Microsoft Worldwide Partner Conference (WPC) here, key Microsoft officials delivered targeted messaging about the Windows Azure platform as the more mainstream, general-purpose cloud platform as compared to competing offerings such as Amazon Web Services, Google App Engine and's solutions, among others.

"At Microsoft we're pulling platform as a service (PAAS) and infrastructure as a service (IAAS) together in Windows Azure," said Bob Muglia, president of the Server and Tools Business at Microsoft. "Windows Azure is the world's first general purpose cloud platform," he added.

In an interview with eWEEK, Amitabh Srivastava, senior vice president of Microsoft's Server and Cloud Division, explained Microsoft's positioning versus cloud competitors such as Google or Amazon Web Services.

"Google is a platform as a service, but it's only restricted to two languages - Python and Java. You have to fit in with the way they do things. We're being general purpose. Amazon is an infrastructure as a service; they provide no tools support. How you develop your applications is your concern. You're on your own. We support any language and multiple frameworks. We provide a rich ecosystem of technology or you can use open source software like MySQL or Apache. Our approach is we don't put any shackles on the developer."

In a separate meeting with eWEEK at WPC, Robert Wahbe, Microsoft's corporate vice president of Server and Tools marketing, amplified the differences between Windows Azure and competitors, saying, "We allow you to use any language to build your apps, including native... You can use C and C++ to build apps for Windows Azure. You won't find that in many other platforms. We're the general purpose guys."

Moreover, Wahbe said, another Microsoft cloud computing competitor, also is limited to a particular language in Java. "And their collaboration with WMware means they can allow developers to manage virtual machines, but I don't think developers want to have to do that," he said.

Meanwhile, Srivastava, who was part of the initial "Red Dog" development team that created the Windows Azure cloud computing platform, said from its inception Windows Azure targeted developers.

"When we were developing Azure from day one it was done for developers," he said. "You have to allow developers to bring their skills, their current set of skills, to the cloud. So we said developers should get to choose tha language they want to use. You can use any environment you want. You can use Visual Studio or you can do the entire development in Eclipse. You can't pigeonhole developers into one or two languages or one or two frameworks. Just because our lineage is Windows Server doesn't mean we will restrict you to using C# or a Microsoft language."

In addition, to make things easier for developers, Srivastava said Microsoft has encapsulated the core development concepts for Windows Azure into a software development kit (SDK). That means "a developer, before taking an application to the cloud, can develop their application and run it on the PC." This enables developers to test their apps and to single out bugs that might not otherwise be caught before the application was deployed. "You're not going to catch all the bugs, but you'll catch many or even most of them. Debugging in a cloud environment is hard. So we wanted to enable a developer to take their application to market as fast as they can."

Srivastava said the technology that became the Windows Azure SDK started as an internal tool used by the Red Dog team to buid and test applications for the cloud platform. It was known as Red Dog in a box, he said. "Red Dog in a box is the thing we used ourselves."

However, the "Red Dog in a box" Srivastava speaks of in this context is not to be confused with the new Windows Azure appliance that Microsoft announced at the WPC. At the WPC event, Microsoft announced the Windows Azure platform appliance, the first turnkey cloud services platform for deployment in customer and service provider datacenters. Dell, eBay, Fujitsu and HP are early adopters of a limited production release of the appliance, Microsoft said.

The appliance is an enabler for developers, particularly for Microsoft partners with development expertise, Srivastava said. "The appliance allows partners to provide customers with their own clouds and to build their own value-add stack on top of it."

In a statement on the company's new cloud appliance, Microsoft's Muglia said the software giant is "the first and only company that offers customers and partners a full range of cloud capabilities and the flexibility to deploy these services where and how they wish - whether that is with Microsoft, a service provider, in a customer datacenter or a combination of all three. Today's introduction of the Windows Azure platform appliance ushers in a new era of cloud computing, and we are looking forward to working with our partners to bring all the benefits of the appliance to our customers and the business technology industry."

Microsoft officials said the new Windows Azure platform appliance combines Windows Azure and Microsoft SQL Azure with Microsoft-specified hardware, enabling on-demand IT capacity and faster delivery of new applications. Large enterprises and service provider partners deploying the appliance in their datacenters will have the benefits of the cloud services that Microsoft offers today, while maintaining physical control of location, regulatory compliance and data. In addition, Muglia disclosed new details regarding Microsoft code name "Dallas," an information service powered by the Windows Azure platform that provides developers and information workers access to third-party premium data sets and Web services.

Al Hilwa, program director for applications development software at market research firm IDC said he believes Microsoft is moving ahead at an aggressive pace with its push into the cloud. Hilwa told eWEEK:

"Unlike with mobile, Microsoft is mobilizing much more quickly with cloud. The cloud market is IT based and enterprises move much more slowly than consumers so there is more time to build a deliberate strategy. Microsoft is targeting cloud on multiple fronts. On the one hand offering its existing Office applications to the cloud through a scalable partner model, on the other hand they are targeting application development either to traditional architectures or to new elastic cloud architectures with Azure. They are covering all the bases in a way that only they can because of their on-premises strength. The impact on their revenue in the long run is still to be determined, but they have definitely identified this area as one where failure is not an option."