Microsoft broadens Azure's reach by marrying IaaS and PaaS

Beyond adding virtual machine capabilities, Microsoft is expanding Azure's support to Linux while giving developer more language choices

It's time to bid farewall to Microsoft Azure's humble beginnings as a mere PaaS. The big Redmond machine is lifting the curtain on previews of new services and updates today, aimed at injecting a healthy dose of IaaS capabilities into its cloud platform while broadening support for various OSes and development platforms. The company clearly has its sights set on not just cloud platform vendors that have affixed the word "hybrid" to their offerings such as HP -- but also services from the likes of Amazon Web Services and RackSpace.

"Only Microsoft, as of today, offers the broadest IaaS and PaaS from a single vendor cloud platform," wrote James Staten, vice president and principal analyst at Forrester. "The company has also taken steps to make the consumption of Windows Azure as simple as possible for its installed base of developers."

There's already been much ado about Microsoft's move to welcome choice flavors of Linux into its new Windows Azure Virtual Machines -- which, according to Staten, "leverage a much more mature Hyper-V as the virtualization layer" compared to rival IaaS services.

Virtual Machines allow you to move VHDs (virtual hard disks) back and forth between on-premises infrastructure and the cloud. "As a common virtualization file format, VHD has been adopted by hundreds of vendors and is a freely available specification covered under the Microsoft Open Specification Promise," according to Bill Laing, VP of Server and Cloud at Microsoft.

On the Windows side, Microsoft is supporting Windows Server 2008 R2 (with or without SQL Server 2012 Eval), as well as Windows Server 2012 RC with its VMs. On the Linux side, Microsoft is supporting OpenSuse 12.1, CentOS 6.2, Ubuntu 12.04, and Suse Linux Enterprise 11 SP2. Red Hat evidently didn't make the cut.

Microsoft also is now offering Windows Azure Virtual Network, key to enabling a hybrid cloud environment. The feature lets users securely provision and manage VPNs in Azure, as well as to link their Azure instances their data centers, VPCs (virtual private clouds), "and other network constructs that create secure non-public perimeters," according to Staten. IT admins maintain control over network topology, including IP-address configuration, table routing, and security policies.

Microsoft has broadened its development platform support and is adding libraries for Java and Python on top of those that already exist for .Net, PHP, and Node.js. The updated Windows Azure SDK now includes new command-line tools that work on Mac or Linux. Microsoft also announced the availability of the Eclipse plug-in for Java, MongoDB integration, Memcached using non-.Net languages, and code configuration for hosting Solr/Lucene.

In an effort to ease cloud-management stress, Microsoft is previewing its Azure Management Portal, through admins can manage Azure workloads from a single UI via various platforms and devices.

Microsoft also is introducing Windows Azure Web Sites, which is designed to let developers quickly and easily crank out new websites. The service includes support for multiple frameworks, such as ASP.Net, PHP, and Node.js, and open source applications, including WordPress, Joomla, Drupal, and others. The Azure Web Sites support both Windows Azure SQL Database and MySQL databases, plus an array of developer tools and protocols, including Visual Studio, Git, FTP, and WebMatrix.

Finally, to help manage all that cloudy infrastructre, Microsoft is offering the Windows Azure Preview Portal, through which admins can create scenario-based user interfaces, access real-time monitoring charts, and perform diagnostic checks on application health. The Preview Portal supports Azure Cloud Services, Virtual Machines, Web Sites, Virtual Network, SQL Database, and Storage.

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Copyright © 2012 IDG Communications, Inc.