Top Ten: Windows Azure Enhancements

Better management and improved capabilities coming to Microsoft's cloud

At the Professional Developers Conference (PDC) 2010 in Redmond, Steve Ballmer boldly declared that Microsoft was "all in" for cloud computing. From the stockholder standpoint, I'm sure this is good news because cloud computing delivers a predictable, subscription-based income that is coveted by software vendors. But I still have my doubts about whether the cloud is really the right move for every business. However, there's no doubt that Microsoft is very aggressively pursuing its Windows Azure offering. At PDC, Microsoft released a slew of customer-driven announcements around Windows Azure. Here are the most important of those announcements.

10. Windows Azure Marketplace—Similar to the iPhone App Store, Windows Azure Marketplace is designed to be an online store where businesses can buy prebuilt Windows Azure cloud services and applications, and it's also a place where developers can offer their Windows Azure applications for sale. You can learn more about the Windows Azure Marketplace on Microsoft's website.

9. Support for Remote Desktop—Remote Desktop has long been the IT administrator's primary tool for remote server management within the organization. At PDC, Microsoft announced that it would let Remote Desktop connect to running Windows Azure instances.

8. Team Foundation Server on Windows Azure—Currently, the primary allure for Windows Azure is for ISV's who develop cloud-based applications and services. In keeping with that base, Microsoft has enabled Team Foundation Server to run on Windows Azure, providing cloud-based application life-cycle management for the organization. A Community Technology Preview (CTP) for Windows Azure Team Foundation Server is planned to be released before the end of 2011.

7. Windows Azure AppFabric Caching and Service Bus—Windows Azure AppFabric provides the foundation to build .NET applications on Windows Azure. Service Bus enables Azure applications to connect with on-premises applications—passing through firewalls and Network Address Translation (NAT) connections. AppFabric Caching enables better application performance by providing a distributed in-memory application cache. CTPs for Windows Azure AppFabric Caching and AppFabric Service Bus were available at PDC 2010. These features are planned to be generally available in the first half of 2011. You can learn more about AppFabric in the whitepapers found on Microsoft's website.

6. Elevated privileges—Another Windows Azure management problem that Microsoft addressed was the need for administrators to have elevated privileges. Elevated privileges will let administrators configure Microsoft IIS Web and Worker roles and will enable administrators to install services such as the Microsoft Software Installer.

5. Support for multiple administrators—Microsoft also stated that it would be improving the administrative experience for Windows Azure. Previously, a Windows Azure instance could be managed only from a single Windows Live account. The new ability to have multiple admins will help enable team management by allowing Windows Azure management from multiple Windows Live accounts.

4. Full IIS support—Another important Windows Azure improvement is full IIS support. Currently, Windows Azure uses a limited version of IIS. The improved IIS support is provided via a new Web role that enables multiple IIS sites per Web role as well as the ability to install IIS modules.

3. Windows Azure Extra Small Instance—Previously, developing with Windows Azure has been an expensive proposition—especially for smaller developers. At PDC, Microsoft announced a new Extra Small Instance. Priced at $0.05 per computing hour, the Extra Small Instance is designed as a more cost-effective development and training environment.

2. Windows Azure Virtual Network—The Windows Azure Virtual Network enables the creation of hybrid on-premises and cloud environments. The first Windows Azure Virtual Network feature available is Windows Azure Connect, which lets IT administrators set up IP-based network connectivity between on-premises Windows servers and Windows Azure resources. A CTP is available from the Windows Azure Management portal (, and the final feature is expected to be generally available in the first half of 2011.

1. Virtual Machine role—Although Windows Azure is built using virtualization, Microsoft has been reluctant about giving customers direct access to virtual machines (VMs)—thereby giving competitors such as Amazon's EC2 an advantage. Microsoft's story had been that with the cloud you can leapfrog the need for virtualization. However, businesses didn't accept that limitation because they wanted to deploy their own VMs to Azure. In response, Microsoft released the new Windows Azure Virtual Machine role, which lets customers move existing Windows Server 2008 R2 applications to Windows Azure by deploying a VHD to Windows Azure. The new VM role will support Windows Server 2003 and Server 2008 R2.

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