Update: Microsoft launches Windows Azure for the cloud

Microsoft's scalable hosting environment aims to help developers build applications spanning from the cloud to the datacenter and PCs, the Web, and phones

At Microsoft's PDC (Professional Developers Conference) in Los Angeles, Chief Software Architect Ray Ozzie unveiled the company's much-anticipated cloud computing platform, dubbed Windows Azure.

Primarily a platform for developers, Windows Azure plays host to the .Net Framework, SQL Server, SharePoint, Dynamics CRM, and an offering called Live Services, which, according to Ozzie, will extend Azure services "outward" to connect with locally running Microsoft software. Using this rich environment, developers will be able to build and deploy Web applications and services running on Microsoft's worldwide infrastructure of datacenters.

[ For more news from Microsoft's Professional Developers Conference, check out InfoWorld's special report. ]

Previously known as Project Red Dog, Windows Azure "is a scalable hosting environment for you to deploy your apps in our cloud," said Microsoft corporate vice president Amitabh Srivastava, one of the key players behind the platform.

"Windows Azure is a new Windows offering at the Web tier of computing," Ozzie said. "This represents a significant extension" of the Windows computing platform, he said.

Windows Azure serves as the underlying foundation of the Azure Services Platform, which helps developers build applications spanning from the cloud to the datacenter and PCs, the Web, and phones, Microsoft said.

Cloud-based developer capabilities are combined with storage, computational, and network infrastructure services. A limited Community Technology Preview of the Azure Services Platform is being made available at PDC. A road map for Azure is set to be revealed in 2009.

Key components of Azure Services Platform include the following:

-- Windows Azure, for service hosting and management and low-level scalable storage, computation, and networking.

-- Microsoft SQL Services, for database services and reporting.

-- Microsoft .Net Services, which are service-based implementations of .Net Framework concepts such as workflow. .Net Services previously was called BizTalk Services. "The services themselves, we found, were actually more identifiable to the .Net community than BizTalk," said Steve Martin, Microsoft senior product management director in the company’s Connected Systems Division.

-- Live Services, for sharing, storing, and synchronizing documents, photos, and files across PCs, phones, PC applications, and Web sites.

-- Microsoft SharePoint Services and Microsoft Dynamics CRM Services for business content, collaboration, and solution development in the cloud.

Azure was compared to Amazon's Elastic Compute Cloud (EC2) services platform by a PDC attendee interviewed after the morning presentations.

"I think it's certainly Microsoft's answer to Amazon's EC2 platform," said Joshua Lane, software developer at InRule Technology. "Amazon just announced that they’re going to be able to host Windows in the cloud and that sort of thing so this is Microsoft's answer to that."

Another attendee, Suhas Mallya, data architect at Aztecsoft, said Azure "looks impressive."

"First of all, it builds on something that people are already familiar with," the Windows platform, said Mallya.

He did add it was a little too early to determine whether Microsoft can succeed with Azure. "I found the demos a little slow," Mallya said.

Ozzie couched the announcement as long in coming. At last, he said, Microsoft could tell the "complete story" of Microsoft's transition to services. "We are deeply and genuinely combining the best of software with the best of services," said Ozzie.

Azure services will be accessible from technologies such as HTTP, REST, the WS* specifications, and Atom, said Microsoft's Sam Ramji, senior director of platform strategy, in a blog post on Monday.

"The Azure platform's goal is to support all developers and their choice of IDE, language, and technology," Ramji said. "We are also providing programmable components that can be consumed by other applications, and Microsoft is funding and sponsoring open source software development kits to enable Java and Ruby developers to take advantage of Azure."

Proofs of concept have been delivered showing how open source developers can build applications to run as services, such as a developer using the Eclipse IDE to write a C# application that runs on Windows Azure, Ramji said.

Copyright © 2008 IDG Communications, Inc.