Microsoft Forecasts Azure Skies for Jan. 1

After more than two years of crowing about “software plus service” rather than Software as a Service (SaaS) for its cloud computing strategy, the finish line is finally in sight for Microsoft’s Azure. The company announced Tuesday at its Professional Developers Conference in Los Angeles that Azure will officially be available for all customers on Jan. 1, 2010.

A small number of beta customers are already using Azure, including the makers of blogging software/hosting service WordPress, Microsoft chief software architect Ray Ozzie told the PDC audience. The platform will be free from Jan. 1 through Feb. 1 as potential customers check out the suite of products; then Microsoft will begin billing for what it hopes will be a lucrative alternative to cloud services either already available or in the works from chief rivals Amazon, Google and IBM.

Just as developers start to get familiar with Azure’s platform languages and the idea of writing applications based on it, Ozzie thew out another code-name for them to consider: Dallas, a data brokerage of sorts fueled by content from private and government sources including NASA, the Associated Press, Data.gov and National Geographic. Dallas is now in the community technology preview (CTP) phase, Ozzie said.

Populating Dallas With App Ideas

“They really push that message so that it’s not people thinking ‘Microsoft is Windows and Windows is desktops’ and that’s where it ends,” Rob Sanfilippo told the E-Commerce Times. Sanfilippo, research vice president for Direction on Microsoft, was in the Los Angeles audience as Ozzie put more meat on his company’s “three screens and a cloud” framework for Web-based data viewed on computers, mobile devices and television monitors. “They’ve been pushing the message by saying, ‘we’re everywhere you go.’ Windows is on devices — TVs, notebooks, desktops. That’s why that message is so important to them.”

Dallas, as Sanfilippo sees it, is a first test of that message — a chance for developers to use “Data as a Service,” as Ozzie called it, to write applications to run across those device platforms, with the initial crop likely being consumer-based. “I’m thinking it’s going to enable a lot of mashup-type applications, things you’ll see on smartphones or Web applications that draw from different providers. But they’ll be on one platform on one app. Developers won’t have to subscribe independently to all those providers. So we’ll see entrepreneurial mashups — real estate data, local city data, weather data.”

It’s unclear what kind of enterprise-type applications would arise from Dallas, Sanfilippo said, but easily-accessible government data taken from public records could be thrown into the mix for potential business use.

An Azure Sky of Deepest Service

More details for the Azure platform, as revealed by Ozzie at PDC after a year of testing:

  • Microsoft promised consistency between on-premise and in-the-cloud services and assured developers they would find support and ease-of-access, which is vital considering Microsoft’s core business still consists of packaged products. “They want to be clear their products will bridge that gap. Exchange, Sharepoint, Communications Server — they’re all evolving so that you’ll have the same features on-premises as in the cloud,” Sanfilippo said.
  • Microsoft .Net Service has evolved to become AppFabric Access Control, part of a suite of tools for managing cloud infrastructure capabilities such as data caching and hosting. AppFabric will be found in Windows Server and Window Azure over the next year.
  • Azure will support virtual machines (VMs), a development that makes Microsoft more competitive with Amazon’s cloud-based offerings, Sanfilippo said. “You can get VM images deployed. You as an administrator can do whatever you want with virtual machines. There’s a bit of customer demand for that kind of cloud. They (developers) don’t want to have to think about Web services in a new way. They just want to deploy them. This makes Microsoft’s cloud more attractive because they can show the resilience that Microsoft can put behind that.”
  • Two data centers in Chicago and San Antonio will power Azure’s North American operations, while facilities in Dublin, Amsterdam, Hong Kong and Singapore will cover Europe and Asia.

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