4 ways Microsoft will lure developers deeper into Azure

Here's how Microsoft's Azure moves are useful for -- and appealing to -- developers

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It's clear that developers love the cloud. It's also clear that Microsoft's cloud services have become the future of the company. No surprise, then, that Microsoft is doing all it can to bring developers to Azure -- not just the existing crowd of Microsoft/.Net folks, but developers from ecosystems far and wide.

With Microsoft's Build event just around the corner, the company is likely to announce even more in this vein. But as it stands right now, here are four of the most crucial ways that Microsoft is making Azure into a developer's haven. 

1. Microsoft's turning its insides out

Few people would question Microsoft has some of the smartest people around working for it, helping build Azure and all the other pieces Microsoft is set to leverage for its future. But the slickest and most advanced innovations within Microsoft won't add up to much if no culture of customer development can be built on them.

Microsoft's next step is to make Azure into something developers can directly leverage, and not just by renting a slice of Microsoft's data center, as everyone else does. 

To wit: Azure Service Fabric, which Microsoft says is the very same bits that the company has used to build the Azure applications in use today. The plan is to allow devs to deploy those bits on their own local instances of Windows Server and run Windows Server Containers and Hyper-V Containers on that fabric to create their own hybrid cloud for PaaS microservices. (More on that in a bit.)

How is that going to be different from, say, deploying OpenStack? For one, it should be far easier to work with; for another, it's a product of Microsoft's experiences in standing up, building, and maintaining such a stack. All of the maintenance ops people would normally be expected to figure out on their own -- updating/rolling back, health monitoring, auto-scaling and load balancing in the field -- are to be built into the product. In theory that means developers spend less time architecting and more time, well, developing.

2. Azure is for making hybrid clouds

Microsoft has been pushing for its vision of a true hybrid cloud for some time now; Azure Service Fabric is the next step toward such a thing.

One obvious consequence of running the same kind of fabric both locally and remotely (Azure Service Fabric, that is) is how that constitutes, by default, a hybrid cloud. Microsoft's plan seems to be to allow developers to build hybrid clouds with it in ways that matter to their actual use cases -- mainly, running apps at scale and keeping data for those apps distributed and readily available to them. Small wonder one of the big boons being touted by Microsoft for Fabric is being able to assemble stateful microservices, a way to create powerful distributed applications.

3. Azure is for making microservices and containers easy

And wherever there's microservices, there's containers -- something Microsoft has heavily invested in by way of Windows Server Containers and Hyper-V Containers/Nano Server.

If the industry is leaving VMs for container technology as far as apps at scale are concerned, Microsoft wants to be part of that -- not just by offering container technologies of its own or interoperating with existing ones, but by making the move to containers as easy and pre-packaged as possible. The less people have flashbacks to their last OpenStack experience, the better.

4. All roads will still lead back to Azure

Beyond running Azure locally, there lies another, even more tantalizing possibility: Microsoft might well offer Azure Service Fabric under an open license. Combine that with the freshly open sourced language and development tools also under Microsoft's aegis, and it's possible the Fabric might end up swaddling more than just Windows and Microsoft developers.

If all that sounds like it would only lead developers (and Microsoft customers in general) away from Microsoft, think again. One thing Microsoft's not giving away -- at least, not any time soon -- is cloud (read: Azure) services like Visual Studio Online, which provide cross-platform building and many other services for software development. Those are guaranteed to remain for-pay resources, even as many of the pieces (.Net, the Roslyn compiler) become commodities.

Additionally, while Microsoft has been hard at work making Azure as appealing as possible for developers across the board, the latest wave of Azure improvements seem to be aimed at satisfying core Microsoft developers all the more thoroughly. Azure App Services, for instance, takes a passel of Azure and Microsoft services (the two are becoming interchangeable) and makes them available to app developers in a friendly way.

Microsoft's cloud plans are broader than any one glance might hint at. By the company's own definition, its cloud doesn't just include Azure, but everything from Office 365 to Power BI as well. But Azure underpins it all and ties it all together, and the more ways developers are empowered to make use of it, the more Azure will seem like a genuinely transformative offering instead of merely a neat idea.

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