Microsoft Beefs Up Windows Azure Connectivity and Interoperability In Massive Update
In a major event called Meet Windows Azure, Microsoft unveiled a series of significant additions to its cloud platform. These changes improved the Windows Azure story around networking and interoperability, and marked Microsoft’s entrance into the Infrastructure-as-a-Service (IaaS) market.
Up until now, Microsoft’s Platform-as-a-Service (PaaS) stack offered a “virtual machine role” that provided non-persistent compute nodes that were not equivalent to traditional IaaS services offered by providers like Amazon Web Services. That changed with the new Windows Azure Virtual Machines service where persistent Windows and Linux machines can be created, hosted, and managed. Windows Azure users can browse prebuilt Windows and Linux virtual machine templates or bring their own virtual machine (VHD only) to the Windows Azure cloud. in a blog post about the Windows Azure changes, Microsoft Vice President Scott Guthrie explained this IaaS capability further.
Virtual Machines are durable (meaning anything you install within them persists across reboots) and you can use any OS with them. Our built-in image gallery includes both Windows Server images (including the new Windows Server 2012 RC) as well as Linux images (including Ubuntu, CentOS, and SUSE distributions). Once you create a VM instance you can easily Terminal Server or SSH into it in order to configure and customize the VM however you want (and optionally capture your own image snapshot of it to use when creating new VM instances). This provides you with the flexibility to run pretty much any workload within Windows Azure.
In addition to providing new compute options, Microsoft also introduced a new networking capability called Windows Azure Virtual Network. This service is used to create a virtual private network between Windows Azure and the user’s on-premises network. Previously, Windows Azure users could only do point-to-point connectivity from an on-premises machine to a Windows Azure machine. Windows Azure Virtual Network promises to introduce more robust networking scenarios that involve multiple machines on both ends of the connection.
Microsoft also introduced Windows Azure Web Sites (previously known as code-named Antares) which provides an application fabric for hosting web applications built with ASP.NET, classic ASP, Node.js, or PHP. Unlike the Compute roles which are uniquely provisioned virtual machines, Web Sites are are multi-tenant and support significantly faster deployment times. Web Site applications can use Microsoft SQL Server or mySQL databases, and Microsoft provided a gallery of web applications that can be deployed to the Web Sites environment. Included in this Gallery are popular blog, forum, ecommerce and CMS applications, such as Wordpress. In addition to providing full support for non-Microsoft frameworks such as Node.js, Windows Azure also supports a variety of deployment mechanisms including FTP, Microsoft’s Team Foundation Server and Git. The Web Site service still has a few limitations, most notably the inability to use SSL certificates associated with a unique domain, and the lack of support for custom domains. This environment also does not support applications built with the yet-to-be-released .NET 4.5, Windows Server 2012 and IIS 8.
One of the biggest changes to the existing Windows Azure platform was the revamping of the web-based Administration Portal. Previously a Silverlight-based website with only basic capabilities, the Administration Portal was completely rewritten as an HTML5 application that can be accessed across a wide range of devices. The Portal is meant to be simpler to use and provide a more consolidated view of Windows Azure services while introducing new capabilities such as health monitoring and diagnostic data. The new REST API that sits beneath the this Portal makes it possible for other applications, or cloud providers, to deploy and manage Windows Azure services. AppFog, which until now has provided a cloud platform based on VMware’s Cloud Foundry, announced support for deployment to Windows Azure as well. Not all Windows Azure services have been aggregated on the new Portal and are thus not available in the new REST API. Notably, the Windows Azure Service Bus components remain part of the Silverlight-based portal with no confirmed date for migration.
As part of this Windows Azure release, Microsoft also refreshed the various SDKs that developers can use to build Windows Azure applications. The SDK for .NET developers includes updated client libraries as well as a visual interface for managing Windows Azure Service Bus components such as Queues and Topics. The SDKs for Java, Node.js, PHP and Python also underwent improvements and the source code for all SDKs remains open source and available in Microsoft’s GitHub repository. Developers can access the new SDKs now, and sign up for the new Web Sites and Virtual Machines by requesting preview access to these services.