Inside TFS

Visual Studio Online: What It Is, and Why You Should Care

The introduction of Visual Studio Online doesn't mean the end of Team Foundation Server, but it does change the way Microsoft does application lifecycle management.

Many of you have been using Team Foundation Service, the "in-the-cloud," Microsoft-hosted version of Team Foundation Server, for the past couple of years. With the launch of Visual Studio 2013 in November, you may have noticed a new name being applied to what was called Team Foundation Service: Visual Studio Online.

Some people find this name confusing. What exactly does it mean? Does Visual Studio Online mean a hosted version of Visual Studio? A Web-based version that can be used for development? And what about Team Foundation Service? How does it now fit into the Microsoft application lifecycle management (ALM) vision?

First off, let's get out of the way that Visual Studio Online is not a hosted or Web-based version of Visual Studio. Currently, Visual Studio is still the Windows-based GUI we all know and love.

Instead, think of Visual Studio Online as an umbrella, encompassing all of Visual Studio's online efforts. Part of those efforts includes Team Foundation Service, the hosted version of TFS. It hasn't gone away, and nothing has changed about it (other than they have announced a new pricing structure). You still access it using your URL (for example, almrocks.visualstudio.com), and still have access to all the version control and work item tracking goodness you had before.

But there are a number of new services available. These services don't necessarily fall under the prevue of Team Foundation Server/Service, but do make sense under the larger umbrella of Visual Studio Online. One new service is cloud-based load testing: You can now take Web and load tests created in Visual Studio and execute them on load agents in the cloud. No longer do you have to spend time and resources setting up load agents in your environment. Instead, you can specify the total number of users you want to load test with, and Visual Studio Online will automatically determine how many agents are needed, spin up the required virtual machines and execute your load tests. And if you're an MSDN subscriber, you get 15,000 user-minutes of load testing free each month.

Another new feature currently in preview mode is Application Insights. This is a new Visual Studio Online service that enables a 360-degree view of your entire application. It helps you keep your applications available and performing. Essentially, it's used to monitor your Web applications and gather performance as well as other telemetry data about how your application is used. If you're using System Center Operations Manager, it can also tie into that product to provide alerts when issues arise. I'll be examining Application Insights in future columns.

So as you can see, Visual Studio Online is made up of much more than Team Foundation Service. And I suspect more services will be added to Visual Studio Online as it continues to grow and evolve.

This naturally leads into the question: Will the on-premise version of Team Foundation Server ever be on-par with Team Foundation Service? And the answer is yes, but at a slightly reduced rate. When Visual Studio 2012 and Team Foundation Server 2012 were released, Microsoft moved to a quarterly update cycle: Every quarter, they released new updates to both Visual Studio and TFS. These updates included both bug fixes and new functionality, much of which had already been implemented on Team Foundation Service. With the 2013 wave of products, Redmond's continuing down the same path. So while you'll see new features for Team Foundation Server first pop up on the hosted version, I believe that ultimately those features will make it down to the on-premise version in the near future.

At the end of the day, you need to care about Visual Studio Online because it's not going away. Microsoft looks to be investing heavily in that area, and new features are going to continue to appear first online, and then work their way down to on-premise. Staying up to date with Visual Studio Online is the best way to stay in the loop with those new features. While I'm biased (being a strong proponent of the Microsoft ALM stack), I'm very excited for the variety of tools that Visual Studio Online provides currently, and for the future updates. If you haven't gotten involved with Visual Studio Online yet, you need to.

About the Author

Mickey Gousset spends his days as a principal consultant for Infront Consulting Group. Gousset is lead author of "Professional Application Lifecycle Management with Visual Studio 2012" (Wrox, 2012) and frequents the speaker circuit singing the praises of ALM and DevOps. He also blogs at ALM Rocks!. Gousset is one of the original Team System/ALM MVPs and has held the award since 2005.

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