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A Conversation about Microsoft Windows Server/Windows Azure AppFabric

Do you want to learn more about Microsoft’s new AppFabric? Earlier today I met up with regular DevProConnections mag Workflow Services columnist Zoiner Tejada to get an introduction to the basics of AppFabric. I’ll post a link to the video soon, but in the meantime here’s a look at the basics of our conversation.

Q: What about Windows Server AppFabric is going to change the life of a developer?
A: If you've ever built an ASP.NET website, you've likely appreciated that you can take your ASPX page and web.config, throw it in IIS and it just works. What's more you were likely able to perform a lot of your site's configuration graphically using IIS Manager. For WCF services, however, you had a different experience. While you did get basic hosting of SVC based services, you really didn't have much tooling beyond that for managing or configuring those service, much less keeping an eye on how they were doing. For Workflow Services, there was no out of the box host at all. That all changes with Windows Server AppFabric; its hosting features enable you to monitor, manage and configure your WCF Code based and WCF Workflow Services directly from IIS Manager. On top of that, you get a robust hosting platform for these services with resiliency baked in, and a distributed in-memory cache that can dramatically boost the performance of session and cache actions in your ASP.NET sites.

Q: Is Windows Server AppFabric related to Windows Azure AppFabric?
A: These are two technologies that work together to solve a really cool problem. With all the excitement of cloud computing today, companies still need to have applications and systems that run on premises. Windows Server AppFabric provides that middleware server for that. Window Azure AppFabric allows you to take those on-premise applications and securely expose them to Internet clients.

Q: Do I have to re-code all of my services in some AppFabric language?
A: Absolutely not! You can think of AppFabric as being to WCF Services like IIS is to ASP.NET web pages. If you've got WCF Services, you just need to deploy them to IIS. If you've never built a WCF Service before, I encourage you to try building your services graphically as workflow services- it's a great experience!

Q: Workflow Services? Why would I choose to build those?
A: Workflows services, particularly when hosted in AppFabric, are designed to address the problem of maintaining state for long running service instances. Consider any form of people-driven processes like P.O. approval or order fulfillment you see these bursts of execution followed by long periods of idle time as the system waits for human input. Ideally, these instances should only occupy memory and CPU cycles when they are running. When they are not, they should be persisted somewhere, preferably protected from system failures. By building your services as workflows and hosting them in AppFabric, you get this and a whole lot more.

Q: How much does AppFabric really cost?
A: AppFabric is licensed with Windows. Basically, you already have a production license for it if you are using Window Server 2008 or Windows Server 2008 R2. Moreover, you are licensed for development use if you are using Windows 7 or Windows Vista SP 1. In other words, it's basically a free download.

Q: When is AppFabric available and where do I get it?
A: AppFabric was released to the web on June 7th, so it's available now. Go to Download it directly or use the Web Platform installer. I highly recommend developers start developing and testing their solutions with AppFabric right away, and not wait for a production deployment to take advantage of its features.

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