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The blogged wandering of Robert W. Anderson

From PDC2009 Day 1: Azure & AppFabric

At last year’s PDC, I posted

It is the openness of this platform, the ability of developers to mix and match the different components, and to do it between the cloud and in-premises solutions that makes this such a winner. 

This last point is an important one.  Microsoft is in a unique position to help enterprise IT bridge to the cloud.  While I don’t think Amazon and Google will cede that market to Microsoft, their current offerings aren’t a natural fit. 

The offering was rich then, but since then Microsoft has continued to push these offerings forward dramatically. 

At the time, my biggest concerns were the one-size-fits-all approach to their provisioning model and their lack of full trust (two things that could make it harder to deploy the Digipede Network onto Azure).  Today those issues have been taken off the table and help support many more use cases, opening up Azure even more to non-Microsoft technologies and fortifying the extremely important IT bridge.

So what are the improvements in openness?

Allowing full trust opens up the door to, well anything.  Unmanaged code,  PHP, MySQL, Java, TomCat, etc. can all run on Azure.  Matt Mullenweg of Automattic demonstrated a WordPress instance running that way.  Kind of anti-climactic, because it would have been a big deal if wordpress.com was moving to Azure.  Simply running a WordPress instance isn’t really that interesting.

Custom VM images are also coming to Azure which will make it much easier to put whatever you want on a VM and deploy it efficiently.

For IT?

Too many items here to enumerate.  SQL Azure integrating into SSMS; Azure integrating into MOM; SQL synchronizing with cloud instances; (this list really does go on and on . . .).

Another important part of this IT bridge?  Not Microsoft’s new App Server, AppFabric.  Though I am excited about this – it is something that has been missing from the Microsoft stack – the key point here is that it runs on premises and in Azure.

Conclusion?

These new features in Azure push Microsoft out even further than the other cloud vendors.  No one else has the depth and breadth in tool support and service offerings.  No one else is innovating so quickly on so many parallel fronts. 

Will Amazon and Google cede the space?  Of course not, but I think they’ll need  to reposition their cloud brands.

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Podcast on PDC2008

Last Wednesday, while still at PDC2008, I did a quick podcast with Colin Steele of the Search IT Channel.  From his introduction:

In this podcast, Microsoft developer Robert Anderson checks in from the Microsoft PDC 2008 in Los Angeles. Anderson, the chief technology officer for Microsoft partner Digipede Technologies in Oakland, Calif., says Windows Azure has a leg up on the Amazon Elastic Compute Cloud, the Google App Engine and other cloud computing platforms. But when it comes to Windows 7, Microsoft has to do a lot more to move on from the “perceived failure” of Windows Vista.

Listen or download from here.

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Why ‘Azure’?

Mary Jo Foley asks, Why ‘Azure’?  She uses Anand Iyer’s answer (from his post):

Azure is a vibrant, dynamic and uplifting color. Azure is also linked to the image of the blue sky and, by extension, ‘the cloud.’

I think there is a more direct association between azure and the Windows cloud:

  1. Clouds are opaque. 
  2. If you put a window in a cloud, you can see through to the clear sky.
  3. The clear sky is azure.

So, Windows in the Cloud == Windows Azure

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Live Framework

David Treadwell announced the Live Framework at the PDC2008 this morning.  Live Services is the collection of Live Messenger, Contacts, etc., plus Live Mesh.  Live Framework is the set of APIs to program against Windows Live Services. 

This is very cool stuff.  There are two things here that I think are significant:

  1. A programmable synchronization platform.
  2. An application framework for installing/running applications across multiple devices.

This is very exciting stuff, but now back to my old saw.

I really want to see Live Framework go beyond Windows Mobile devices to every major mobile platform.  This means the Apple, RIM, Google, Nokia platforms, etc.

My main reason?  A major value proposition of Live Framework is phone device support.  Duh.  But, I don’t want to invest my time and data in Live Mesh applications if it comes with a lock-in to the Windows Mobile platform.

Given the discussion at a partner meeting yesterday about Windows Mobile, I think this will be a pretty common feeling.

Microsoft may not be able to make this happen, of course, but I hope they really try.

BTW: We interviewed David on Gillmor Gang 04.25.08 specifically talking about Live Mesh.

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Windows 7

Recently I lauded the new name in my post, Windows 7? Right on!  I led that post with

First of all let me say that I’m not that excited about the “Windows” part of Windows 7.  I’m sure that will change when I see it later this month at the PDC.

A Microsoft guy not involved with the Windows team emailed me to tell me that his experience with Windows 7 is that it performs dramatically better.

That got me interested.  And now I’ve seen it at PDC2008.  Am I excited?

Well, not really.  With Windows Vista I allowed my love for shiny new objects to drive some of my decisions.  Windows 7 does have plenty of new — and cool — features.  Some that struck me:  some real improvements in Windows management (finally), create and mount VHDs, bitlocker on thumb drives, boot from VHDs, better multi-monitor and high DPI support, multi-monitor remote desktop,

These are all good things that make Windows better, but what I really care about is that it perform better and that the features can be used without killing performance.  To this end, they have worked on reducing Windows memory footprint, reduced disk I/O for indexing, better power management, increase boot speed, device readiness and responsiveness

If Windows 7 enhances my productivity through performance and stability, then I can get excited.

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Microsoft Windows Azure

imageMicrosoft’s long awaited cloud platform has finally been unveiled here at PDC 2008.  Late to the Internet, Microsoft hit it hard.  Late to the cloud, Microsoft is doing the same with Windows Azure.  Happily, this will put an end to all the guessing about what Zurich, Red Dog, biztalk.net, SSDS, Live Mesh, etc., actually are.  

Of course, now begins the discussion of how all these pieces fit together.  

This is not a simple approach like Amazon’s EC2 or Google App Engine.  Not to trivialize either, but they are certainly easier to understand.  Try explaining them to the proverbial grandmother — no problem, especially if you leave out virtualization and pythons ;)  (preemptive comment: I know AWS is much more than EC2 and that bigger and better things are coming from Google).

Regardless, the Microsoft Azure is multi-faceted.  In typical Microsoft fashion, there is a lot for a developer to choose from:

  • Azure Storage, Management, and Compute.  Run WCF/ASP.NET based services, with work queues and data storage.
  • Microsoft .NET Services, nee biztalk.net (wrote about here).  This gives you an Internet Service Bus, Access Control, and Workflow Services.  Messages and workflow in the cloud connecting other cloud and enterprise offerings.  Very big deal.
  • Microsoft SQL Services, nee SQL Server Data Services or SSDS.  Eventually a relational model in the sky, currently not too different from Azure Storage.
  • Live Services: Not too much detail on this today, but this is clearly what was “Live Mesh”: a rich synchronization framework, “live operating environment” for writing applications to across the Web and on user’s devices. 
  • Windows Live (Live Office, Live Sharepoint, Live Dynamics CRM, etc). In-cloud applications extensible by partners and users with in-cloud and in-premises solutions.

It all does fit together, and will be of immediate value to developers.  As Marc Jacobs of Lab49 said to me afterward,

We could make use of all of these services today.

Damned straight.  It is the openness of this platform, the ability of developers to mix and match the different components, and to do it between the cloud and in-premises solutions that makes this such a winner. 

This last point is an important one.  Microsoft is in a unique position to help enterprise IT bridge to the cloud.  While I don’t think Amazon and Google will cede that market to Microsoft, their current offerings aren’t a natural fit. 

Taking this all together — not forgetting Microsoft’s leading developer productivity story — it looks like a home run to me.

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Going to PDC2008

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I’m going to the PDC. 

I am mostly excited to hear about how all Microsoft’s cloud + parallel programming +  distributed computing story all fits together.  And hopeful that it really does all fit together.

I’m interested in hearing more about Windows 7, but I’m not that excited about it. 

As in all conferences, 99% of the value is in meeting and hanging out with people.   If you are going too and want to meet up, let me know. 

email me: robert at digipede dot net.

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