Windows Azure: Microsoft Moves to the Cloud

Microsoft this week joined the cloud computing party in a big way. Ray Ozzie yesterday kicked-off their annual Professional Developers Conference (PDC) by announcing Windows Azure, Microsoft's highly anticipated OS in the cloud. It's a vast suite of offerings that takes their Software + Services strategy to a whole new level and puts them in direct competition in the cloud with Amazon, Google, and a growing host of large internet players and a raft of startups.

What is it? Microsoft describes Windows Azure as:

Windows® Azure is a cloud services operating system that serves as the development, service hosting and service management environment for the Azure Services Platform. Windows Azure provides developers with on-demand compute and storage to host, scale, and manage Web applications on the Internet through Microsoft® data centers.

To build these applications and services, developers can use their existing Microsoft® Visual Studio® 2008 expertise. In addition, Windows Azure supports popular standards and protocols including SOAP, REST, and XML. Windows Azure is an open platform that will support both Microsoft and non-Microsoft languages and environments.

At a high level Azure is a foundation for everything in Microsoft's cloud from Live Services (like most of the Microsoft APIs listed here), to database services (Microsoft SQL Services) to hosted offerings for SharePoint and Microsoft Dynamics CRM.

The following list of announced included services to get a sense of the scope of the announcement (not all of these are available today):

Computation Services

  • Ability to run Microsoft ASP.NET Web applications or .NET code in the cloud
  • Service hosting environment that includes Internet Information Services 7.0 and Microsoft .NET Framework 3.5 SP1
  • Security supported by flexible Code Access Security policies
  • Small runtime API that supports logging and local scratch storage
  • Web Portal that helps you deploy, scale, and upgrade your services quickly and easily

Simple data storage services

  • Blobs, tables, and queues hosted in the cloud, close to your computation
  • Authenticated access and triple replication to help keep your data safe
  • Easy access to data with simple REST interfaces, available remotely and from the data center

Development Tools

  • Complete offline development environment, including computation and storage services
  • Complete command-line SDK tools and samples
  • Visual Studio add-in that enables local debugging

While Microsoft aims to use the platform to extend their desktop and server products, they are making a concerted effort to emphasize it's openness: "Windows Azure supports standards and protocols including SOAP, REST and XML. Windows Azure welcomes third party tools and languages such as Eclipse, Ruby, PHP, and Python."

And along with that pledge to support non-Microsoft environments and openness, this week Microsoft is also announcing support for OpenID. This means that over 400 million Windows Live accounts can now be used as OpenID accounts. As with announcements from Yahoo and AOL, this does not mean that Microsoft is a relying party that will accept OpenID logins, but that may come in the future. On the whole this is another big win for open identity standards.

For good coverage of the announcement and of PDC itself, check out Richard MacManus, Nick Carr, Phil Wainewright, ars technica and Mary-Jo Foley. Follow the thread at Techmeme.