Answers to Your Questions on Cloud Connectors for Leading Platforms like Windows Azure Platform

Jeffrey Schwartz and Michael Desmond, both editors of Redmond Developer News, recently sat down with corporate vice president of Microsoft’s Connected Systems Division, Robert Wahbe, at the recent Microsoft Professional Developers Conference (PDC) to talk about Microsoft Azure and its potential impact on the developer ecosystem at Microsoft. Responsible for managing Microsoft’s engineering teams that deliver the company’s Web services and modeling platforms, Wahbe is a major advocate of the Azure Services Platform and offers insight into how to build applications that exist within the world of Software-as-a-Service, or as Microsoft calls it, Software plus Services (S + S).

When asked how much of Windows Azure is based on Hyper-V and how much is an entirely new set of technologies, Wahbe answered, “Windows Azure is a natural evolution of our platform. We think it’s going to have a long-term radical impact with customers, partners and developers, but it’s a natural evolution.” Wahbe continued to explain how Azure brings current technologies (i.e. the server, desktop, etc.) into the cloud and is fundamentally built out of Windows Server 2008 and .NET Framework.

Wahbe also referenced the PDC keynote of Microsoft’s chief software architect, Ray Ozzie, in which Ozzie discussed how most applications are not initially created with the idea of scale-out. Explained Wahbe, expanding upon Ozzie’s points, “The notion of stateless front-ends being able to scale out, both across the data center and across data centers requires that you make sure you have the right architectural base. Microsoft will be trying hard to make sure we have the patterns and practices available to developers to get those models [so that they] can be brought onto the premises.”

As an example, Wahbe created a hypothetical situation in which Visual Studio and .NET Framework can be used to build an ASP.NET app, which in turn can either be deployed locally or to Windows Azure. The only extra step taken when deploying to Windows Azure is to specify additional metadata, such as what kind of SLA you are looking for or how many instances you are going to run on. As explained by Wahbe, the Metadata is an .XML file and as an example of an executable model, Microsoft is easily able to understand that model. “You can write those models in ‘Oslo’ using the DSL written in ‘M,’ targeting Windows Azure in those models,” concludes Wahbe.

Wahbe answered a firm “yes” when asked if there is a natural fit for application developed in Oslo, saying that it works because Oslo is “about helping you write applications more productively,” also adding that you can write any kind of application—including cloud. Although new challenges undoubtedly face development shops, the basic process of writing and deploying code remains the same. According to Wahbe, Microsoft Azure simply provides a new deployment target at a basic level.

As for the differences, developers are going to need to learn a new set of services. An example used by Wahbe is if two businesses were going to connect through a business-to-business messaging app; technology like Windows Communication Foundation can make this as easy process. With the integration of Microsoft Azure, questions about the pros and cons of using the Azure platform and the service bus (which is part of .NET services) will have to be evaluated. Azure “provides you with an out-of-the-box, Internet-scale, pub-sub solution that traverses firewalls,” according to Wahbe. And what could be bad about that?

When asked if developers should expect new development interfaces or plug-ins to Visual Studio, Wahbe answered, “You’re going to see some very natural extensions of what’s in Visual Studio today. For example, you’ll see new project types. I wouldn’t call that a new tool … I’d call it a fairly natural extension to the existing tools.” Additionally, Wahbe expressed Microsoft’s desire to deliver tools to developers as soon as possible. “We want to get a CTP [community technology preview] out early and engage in that conversation. Now we can get this thing out broadly, get the feedback, and I think for me, that’s the most powerful way to develop a platform,” explained Wahbe of the importance of developers’ using and subsequently critiquing Azure.

When asked about the possibility of competitors like Amazon and Google gaining early share due to the ambiguous time frame of Azure, Wahbe’s responded serenely, “The place to start with Amazon is [that] they’re a partner. So they’ve licensed Windows, they’ve licensed SQL, and we have shared partners. What Amazon is doing, like traditional hosters, is they’re taking a lot of the complexity out for our mutual customers around hardware. The heavy lifting that a developer has to do to tale that and then build a scale-out service in the cloud and across data centers—that’s left to the developer.” Wahbe detailed how Microsoft has base computing and base storage—the foundation of Windows Azure—as well as higher-level services such as the database in the cloud. According to Wahbe, developers no longer have to build an Internet-scale pub-sub system, nor do they have to find a new way to do social networking and contacts nor have reporting services created themselves.

In discussing the impact that cloud connecting will have on the cost of development and the management of development processes, Wahbe said, “We think we’re removing complexities out of all layers of the stack by doing this in the cloud for you … we’ll automatically do all of the configuration so you can get load-balancing across all of your instances. We’ll make sure that the data is replicated both for efficiency and also for reliability, both across an individual data center and across multiple data centers. So we think that be doing that, you can now focus much more on what your app is and less on all that application infrastructure.” Wahbe predicts that it will be simpler for developers to build applications with the adoption of Microsoft Azure.  For more information regarding Windows Azure, please visit Nubifer.com.

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