Out of the Darkness into the Light – the Azure Services Platform

I have to admit to a ‘Eureka’ moment when watching the video of the PDC2008 keynote by Chris Anderson and Don Box, A Lap Round the Azure Platform, decidedly a video for coders only. Chris and Don proudly eschewed PowerPoint and used Visual Studio as their presentation platform. [For a gentle intro to Azure see parts of the main Ray Ozzie 97-minute keynote video.]

Chris and Don had written a simple web service in C# to list the processes running on their dev machine and to delete a selected process. Azure makes it trivial to expose that service publically, still running on their own machine (by extension read any in-premises web service using local, secure data) to Azure (read the cloud) in seconds. The lightning-strike moment for me came when it became clear that they had left a breakpoint in the Delete method of their web service. Members of the audience using their laptops were hitting the Delete service URLs! Thus the development and instant deployment power of the new cloud computing era were fully revealed.

Of course Chris and Don went on to move the web service itself to the cloud with only a few minor code changes. Similarly the service was secured into the Windows Live ID harness and the scaling on demand features of Azure demonstrated. So few lines of C# code were needed. Of course Windows Azure provides all the enterprise cloud computing plumbing to which your cloud apps are tied.

The well-known evangelist for open information exchange, Jon Udell, now working for Microsoft, also is very impressed with Azure. In his blog post, URI, XML, HTTP, REST, and the Azure Services Platform, he makes similar comments about the Chris and Don keynote. In fact, Jon gives a technical summary that might save you some time watching the video of the Chris and Don keynote given above.

Of course my instant attraction to Azure is predicated on a sensible charging structure when Azure ceases to be free for developers. The pioneers in web-accessible services are the Amazon Web Services. Azure goes much further and at a higher level than the Amazon compute, data storage and simpledb features. With Azure we will gain access to many more powerful services like full SQL Server, device meshes, identity both local and cloud, communications and presence, search and geospatial. The Azure .NET service has no Amazon equivalent and more closely matches the Google App Engine where web applications can be hosted written in Python. Of course Azure .NET services will allow standard ASP.NET web applications to be hosted using any .NET supported languages such as C#, VB, JavaScript, IronRuby, IronPython and several more.

I am left breathless after taking in the breadth and depth of Azure. As yet, though, only parts of the .NET, SQL and Live services are being delivered in pre-beta. In fact Ray Ozzie introduced a new state of software readiness at PDC2008, ‘nascent’. For now we can only try out nascent Azure but that seems to be sufficient to support web-based thin JavaScript/AJAX versions of Word, Excel, PowerPoint and OneNote. I can’t wait to use these apps in the cloud.

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About Michael Rees
Academic in IT interested in Web 2.0 and social media

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