Windows Azure and the Azure Services Platform: Making Microsoft’s Software-plus-Services Vision a Reality

LOS ANGELES – Oct. 27. 2008 – Today’s powerful computing technology includes cell phones with the processing power of recent PCs, quad-processor computers that have moved from datacenters to retail electronic stores, huge high-definition digital televisions, and more. The Web has grown in similar ways, and today its wealth of information and social networking capabilities make it the first stop when people turn on a PC or notebook.

Meanwhile, developers often have to make technology choices to optimize for a given device or application environment, choices that reduce that device’s capabilities in other circumstances. As a result, current applications don’t always take full advantage of both the power of devices and the power of the Web because they simply aren’t designed to do that.

A new set of platform technologies from Microsoft, unveiled today at the Professional Developers Conference 2008, is designed to change all that. The Azure Services Platform combines the growing power of the Web-based “cloud” and today’s computers and devices with a suite of services designed to help developers deliver compelling new experiences across the PC, Web and mobile phone or PDA.  The new platform extends to developers the ability to rapidly develop and deploy new applications into the cloud, without having to worry about how they will scale up. It gives businesses a new set of choices for how they deploy IT. And consumers benefit through new abilities to see their growing array of digital devices linked together in new and exciting ways.

Ray Ozzie, Microsoft’s Chief Software Architect says, “Today we’re delivering a game-changing set of technologies that bring new opportunities to the global community of developers. In many ways it’s a turning point for Microsoft. But every time there’s been a major platform shift in our industry, it’s meant new opportunity and growth.”

The Azure Services Platform combines under a single umbrella code names and rumors that have floating around the blogosphere for weeks – code names such as “Strata,” “Zurich” and “Red Dog.” The vision for the platform was first articulated by Ozzie in his October 2005 memo, “The Internet Services Disruption.” Since then, Microsoft has worked to deliver a platform and set of services that allows maximum flexibility and choice for developers, businesses and consumers.

The foundation of the platform is Windows Azure, a new cloud-based operating system that serves as the development, run-time and environment for the Azure Services Platform. It is designed for what Ozzie and Microsoft describe as the “web tier” of computing–a layer that scales to handle the giant computation, storage and networking loads for today’s Web-based world. Windows Azure extends Windows to the Web, where developers can build, deploy and maintain new cloud-based applications using existing skills and familiar tools such as Visual Studio. They’ll also be able to deliver applications built around a collection of developer services that includes Live Services, Microsoft .NET Services, Microsoft SQL Services, Microsoft SharePoint Services and Microsoft Dynamics CRM Services. Additionally, developers can soon market new applications built on the platform directly to their own customers.

The Azure Services Platform has two distinct layers. The base layer – Windows Azure – provides computation and storage foundational services on which the remaining components of Microsoft’s Services offering will reside over time. The second layer is a collection of additional infrastructure services including Microsoft .NET Services and Microsoft SQL Services, as well as services extensions to Live offerings, SharePoint, and Microsoft Dynamics. These services can be used in conjunction with applications developed on Windows Azure or to extend existing applications that run on-premises or in other hosted environments.

Choice and Flexibility for Developers, Businesses and Consumers

Businesses need to infuse applications with be best of web and social software and improve the flexibility and dynamic nature of their IT infrastructure. They need to be able to connect systems and data securely, but still share information so they stay connected with customers and partners. They need to invest in technology, but in a way that lets them grow and scale and stay focused on business opportunities.

Consumers, meanwhile, want better connectivity and computing options across their growing array of PCs, laptop, mobile devices, smart DVRs and HDTVs, in-car systems, knitting them together across a Web that is growing exponentially more powerful.

And developers want more opportunities to create innovative computing experiences with the power of today’s computing devices and the endless opportunities the Web provides. But they currently are challenged to bring together disparate islands of data, applications and contacts. When trying to create scalable solutions that involve multiple devices, developers have difficult choices to make regarding the architecture and technology they use.

Windows Azure and the Azure Services Platform are designed to enable the creation of new development scenarios that take advantage of cloud based efficiencies and as well as exploit the capabilities of increasingly capable devices. With Windows Azure, Microsoft is extending today’s Windows experience to the cloud with an application model that spans the server, Web, PC and mobile devices. Customers of all sorts will be able to take advantage of the scale of the cloud with applications that feature ease of use, less complexity and better integration to their daily life. And developers will enjoy a new level of choice in how they develop and deploy applications.

A Balanced Approach to a New Computing World

Microsoft’s Software-plus-Services model is founded on the premise that users benefit most when software and services exist together, taking full advantage of powerful client devices and delivering maximum flexibility and choice. “There’s this notion out there that all of technology will be sucked up in to this thing called the ‘cloud,’ and the cloud will virtually replace all the other technology or render it irrelevant,” says Walid Abu-Hadba, corporate vice president of the Developer & Platform Evangelism Group at Microsoft in a PDC2008 video interview. “The reality is that the cloud only complements existing technology and provides people with flexibility and another way of doing things. Our intent with the Azure Services Platform is to seamlessly extend Microsoft’s platform out to the cloud so customers don’t have to choose, or deal with silos of Web-based information.”

Microsoft has taken a deliberate and balanced approach to framing and developing its own vision based on thirty years of expertise in platforms, tools, applications, devices and infrastructure. In addition, Microsoft took advantage of experiences gained in the online services world supporting half a billion Windows Live Hotmail and Windows Live Messenger users, as well as millions of X-Box Live gamers.

To provide the infrastructure necessary for these long term investments, Microsoft has made aggressive investments in data center capacity in the United States and across the world. Earlier this year, Microsoft opened major datacenters in Quincy, Wash. and San Antonio, and plans to open additional centers in Chicago and Dublin, Ireland in the near future.

The Benefits of Azure Services Platform for Businesses and Consumers

With Windows Azure and the Azure Services Platform, developers can build new applications that run in the cloud, or enhance existing applications with cloud-based capabilities. Business customers can elastically scale their systems up or down as needed to meet changes in their business environment, such as a holiday shopping rush, a burst of news about the company, or downtime during vacations. “(Web) demand might be seen as a series of peaks and valleys,” says Ozzie. “It might shoot up during the holidays, or during new product introductions, or when bad things or good things go on in the blogosphere.”

Using Windows Azure and the Azure Services Platform, IT departments can build applications that use the cloud to employ data storage like a utility, paying less when usage is low, but gaining the ability to vastly and rapidly scale up their usage during critical periods.

For example, a developer managing a large retail company’s e-store can quickly create a cloud-based application to market a new product through blogs, wireless devices and other channels. Changes to the product information or application can be pushed out instantly, and when orders start pouring in, the cloud- based infrastructure scales to meet the demand.

Businesses have further choice when it comes to how they design their IT infrastructure. They can use the computing power of a Microsoft data center, a Microsoft hosting partner, their own servers or any combination of the three. A business can focus its IT resources on tasks that are strategic and mission-critical, while sending other services to the cloud.

Small- and medium-sized business can more easily meet the needs of their customers by taking advantage of scalability and applications typically reserved for large enterprises. With systems that are fully integrated and connected, it can save busy entrepreneurs a great deal of time and money. If an interior designer in Chicago learns that a fabric she needs from Italy isn’t available, she can adjust her designs, and the change gets picked up and sent automatically through her network in real-time – from manufacturer to client – with updated information about delivery, cost and special handling instructions.

Consumers, meanwhile, will benefit from the new cloud capabilities the Azure Services Platform extends to Live Services, including Live Mesh to automatically sync and share data across multiple devices. In the future, a college student surfing in Australia can take a picture of his friends and upload it to Live Mesh, and the photo is instantly sent to his PC, his phone and a wireless digital photo frame that sits atop his grandmother’s television back in Los Angeles.

Microsoft’s global ecosystem of partners and developers will play a key role in creating applications that take full advantage of the cloud capability Microsoft is deploying. By using the Azure Services Platform, developers will be able to create new applications and user experiences using familiar tools such as Visual Studio.

Using the combined power and flexibility of Windows Azure and the Azure Services Platform, developers have the opportunity to create applications that change the way people work, live and play.

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