Microsoft keeps the Azure hits coming

Windows Azure SDK 2.2, Hyper-V Recovery Manager preview, and Windows Azure Backup are among the many new features added to Azure this week

While most everyone this week has been yawning at the release of new Surface Pro tablets, over in another corner Microsoft has been hard at work on getting new Windows Azure features out the door.

The list of this week's updates to Azure is wide-ranging, although some of it will be familiar to anyone who's followed the news of what Redmond's been planning for Azure.

The general availability of Windows Azure Backup

As the name implies, this uses Azure's blob storage to provide cloud-based backup and restore for Windows Server or for System Center Data Protection Manager. In a nod to those uneasy about cloud storage, Microsoft has affirmed that not only is data encrypted before transmission, but the user -- not Microsoft -- keeps the encryption key.

Active Directory

Microsoft's plans for Active Directory in Azure have been getting more ambitious of late, with its most recent big add being single sign-on for all the SaaS offerings integrated into Azure, as well as a single place to access those apps if you're an end-user. Among the less-publicized additions this time around: auditing reports that include things like automatically flagging suspicious log-in behaviors (such as logging in from multiple locations at once) and sign-in integration within Visual Studio.

Windows Azure SDK 2.2

Speaking of Visual Studio, the 2013 version just got support for the new revision of the Windows Azure SDK, version 2.2. Also among the features in 2.2 is Remote Debugging Cloud Services, which lets you plug Visual Studio into a debugger running in Azure as if you were debugging an application locally. Many of the other additions to Azure's development features -- for example, the PowerShell cmdlets -- have been in roughly the same vein, that of closing the gap between what's done in the cloud and what's done locally.

The public preview of Hyper-V Recovery Manager

This new feature allows System Center Virtual Machine Manager 2012 SP1 and R2 private clouds to be replicated to and recovered from a secondary location. Again, in another nod to those paranoid about the cloud, application data is kept local and everything to, from, and in Azure is encrypted.

From the outside these may seem like little pieces, but they're adding up. InfoWorld's Eric Knorr has described Microsoft as "the sleeping giant of the cloud," with "the resources to crush it." Microsoft is in the middle of a difficult but fruitful transition away from the low-hanging fruit of commodity computing and toward the high-margin, far-reaching innovations possible as a services company.

Actually, Microsoft has had a decently large slice of its pie coming from most everything but the Windows division for some time now. Back in 2012, ZDNet's Ed Bott noted how large chunks of Microsoft's revenue were not from Windows at all, but from the company's business division, the entertainment and devices division (read: Xbox), and the server division. It wouldn't be surprising at all if from now on the biggest news out of Redmond had nothing to do with Windows per se, and everything to do with Azure.

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Copyright © 2013 IDG Communications, Inc.