Windows Azure customers anxious to learn what Microsoft has been hiding behind its back can finally exhale later this week in San Francisco.
One key piece of the Azure update is support for what Microsoft calls “Persistent Virtual Machine (VM) Roles,” which will let Windows Azure customers run legacy applications in VMs. That includes running Linux, sources said.
Another capability is a Web hosting framework codenamed “Antares” that will provide a fine granularity Web apps-hosting service aimed at customers who don’t see Azure as an economical platform for webpage hosting.
But will Microsoft be able to deliver those features sooner rather than later? Not in a single iteration, one source said. Instead of pulling off the “All singing, all dancing” vision Microsoft would like to promise, it’s more likely the company will need at least two iterations to achieve the basics.
Of course, now that the Windows 8 Release Preview is available there is sure to be a Windows Azure demo on tablets and mobile devices at the event.
Another key trend to watch for, sources said, is an increased focus on hybrid clouds.
Over the short to mid-term, Microsoft aims to achieve, “write once and run anywhere” capabilities for Windows Azure, if I can use the Java slogan. Customers want to be able to run their applications either in the data center or in the cloud, or as a hybrid of two interchangeably. And they want to be able to do so without rewriting any code or worrying about vendor lock-in.
The best way to do that seems simple enough — run applications on the same API on both platforms — Windows Azure and Windows Server 2012. That might not be as easy as it sounds, though.
Windows Azure numbers lower than Amazon
Just as important as what Microsoft says, however, is what Microsoft doesn’t say. That may be telling when it comes to judging the relative veracity and importance of plans and promises at the Meet Windows Azure event, which will be streamed.
Microsoft has been notably quiet about Windows Azure’s status for more than a year. That may be because sales of Windows Azure have been disappointing to date. Windows Azure has garnered fewer than 100,000 customers so far, according to the research firm Directions On Microsoft based in Kirkland, Wash.
That’s quite lower than industry estimates for market leader Amazon Web Services.
In some respects, it’s the same struggle Microsoft has gone through before. How can the company and its products remain relevant in a computing universe that is constantly changing?
The event will likely resemble many previous Microsoft marketing splashes, with system integrators, application developers, resellers and other partners lined up to show solidarity for the company’s strategy du jour.
Again, when Thursday rolls around, remember to listen closely for what doesn’t get said as well as what does.
Stuart J. Johnston is Senior News Writer for SearchCloudComputing.com. Contact him at email@example.com.]]>
“If it is true, it’s pants-on-head retarded.”
That’s how Tier 1 analyst Carl Brooks described reports this week that Microsoft will drop “Azure” from the branding of its public cloud offering.
“Azure is a dynamite brand — it’s almost a byword, like Amazon is, for a certain kind of cloud infrastructure, and in a very positive way,” Brooks said. “They’d be nuts to drop it and I’m hard pressed to understand any potential benefit.”
As it turns out, Brooks was right; Microsoft isn’t that irrational — although sometimes it might seem that way. The confusion began when a popular tech blog got wind that the software titan had sent out an email to Azure subscribers advising them that it’s cutting “Azure” from the names of a bunch of Azure services.
“In the coming weeks, we will update the Windows Azure Service names,” the message said. “These are only name changes: Your prices for Windows Azure are not impacted,” according to the email quoted in the blog post.
What had occurred, however, was less than meets the eye. The changes are to Azure’s “billing portal,” another tech blog revealed, and don’t affect the overall naming of Azure services.
After several hours of silence, Microsoft did finally issue an official clarification. “Microsoft continues to invest in the Windows Azure brand and we are committed to delivering an open and flexible cloud platform that enables customers to take advantage of the cloud. The brand is not going away.”
That’s a good thing. “It would be like dropping ‘Exchange’ in favor of ‘Microsoft Email Server’,” Brooks added, calling the excitement “a tempest in a teapot.”]]>
Evidence of this tighter relationship can be seen in the upcoming System Center 2012 suite, due in early spring, which has new features supporting a number of capabilities in Azure. System Center and Azure won’t be the only two getting cozier. Microsoft will also enrich Windows Server to work more hand-in- glove with Azure as well, said Rob Helm, managing vice president of Directions on Microsoft.
“System Center will continue its reach toward Windows Azure with Virtual Machine Manager (contained in System Center 2012) already gaining the ability to manage some Azure resources. I think Windows Server will also gain the ability to run Azure’s unique services for things like storage and authentication. This way if something deployed (on Azure) is not working out or there are security concerns, users can bring them over to Windows Server,” Helm said.
Continuing on what he sees for Azure in 2012, Helm said the cloud platform will receive two important updates this year – updates he originally expected in 2011 – that will make it more compatible with Windows Server as well as deploy applications with significantly less upfront costs. The first will be the VM roles feature which will allow the platform to run Hyper-V virtual machines.
The second will be the delivery of Application Virtualization, better known as Server App-V, which will allow Azure to run Windows Server components it can’t today, making it easier to summon up server applications, Helm said. He added that in the second half of this year Microsoft itself would be putting server-based apps up on Azure, namely some of its Dynamics applications such as Dynamics NAV.
As Azure gains the ability to host virtual machines, Helm predicts it will generally function as an Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS) offering, not just as a Platform as a Service (PaaS). This evolution will bring it more directly into competition with Amazon Web Services.
“I think you will gradually see Amazon Web Services and Azure converge in terms of their capabilities,” Helm said.
Let us know what you think about this story; email Ed Scannell at firstname.lastname@example.org.]]>
In fact, if recent rumors are borne out, the company will soon add Linux to the list of OSEs that Windows Azure public cloud platform supports.
According to reports from Microsoft watcher Mary Jo Foley, Microsoft is adding support for Linux in addition to Windows Server in Windows Azure’s so-called Virtual Machine (VM) role along with other upcoming changes to its Windows Azure public cloud offering.
It will do that in part to meet the demands of larger customers who have apparently been leaning on the company over the fact that heterogeneous data centers are the rule, not the exception. Linux is a fact of life, not something to be ignored, even in the cloud.
Additionally, and perhaps a little ironically, Azure does not support several key Microsoft applications, including SharePoint Server, SQL Server, Small Business Server and Terminal Server.
The VM role has been in beta for months. It provides an easy and quick way to move an application onto Azure by simply loading it as a Virtual Hard Disk (VHD) image into a VM role. Microsoft points to the VM role as a way to run legacy applications on Azure.
However, the VM role doesn’t currently persist application states nor does it support Linux.
Microsoft architects had apparently expected customers to build their applications on Azure’s Platform as a Service (PaaS) APIs. Writing apps from scratch is more work than running them in VMs.
“If Microsoft makes VMs stateless and even lets Linux VMs load, it would address some of [its] issues with Amazon [and other PaaS purveyors],” said Rob Sanfilippo, research vice president at analyst firm Directions on Microsoft.
If this is true, the move could help Microsoft’s public cloud story with enterprise IT.
“It’s the first non-Windows server supported by Azure [and] it broadens their offering …. If you really want to get the most out of Azure, a lot of organizations really just want to move their applications to the cloud,” Sanfilippo added.
The updated VM role capability with support for Linux and preserving application state is set to go into community technology preview, or CTP, in late March, said Foley.
Microsoft declined to comment on pending Azure futures and has not made any announcements regarding hosting Linux on Azure.]]>
The outage is a reminder to users tapping into cloud services that the availability of the system is out of their control. Microsoft has so far declined to comment on what happened.]]>