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Windows Azure Q&A with Roger Jennings

Roger Jennings wrote the June issue cover story for Visual Studio Magazine, titled "New Migration Paths to the Microsoft Cloud." We caught up with Roger earlier this week to get an update on Windows Azure developments and how Microsoft's efforts on products like LightSwitch and Windows 8 dovetail with the company's cloud strategy.

Michael Desmond: Scott Guthrie transitions into his new role this month. What do you think his Azure App Platform team will be up to and what technology improvements and services in your view should be top priorities? Have you seen any change in the Azure group yet?
Roger Jennings: So far, Scott’s been fulfilling prior commitments with a grand tour of London for an all-day "Gu-athon" presentation with a cloud development session on June 6, and then in Norway for a Norwegian Developers Conference to give the "Cloud Computing and Windows Azure" keynote on June 8. He's in Germany today for an IT&DevConnections Germany keynote ("Microsoft’s Web Platform").

In Oslo, Scott said Microsoft will be adding four more data centers to the current six in the next few months. He also mentioned that "some of the Azure customers we have today are storing 25 to 50 petabytes."

I recommend that Scott review the Windows Azure Feature Voting Forum for new feature requests. My favorite unfulfilled requests are full-text search and secondary indexes for table storage, as well as Transparent Data Encryption and full-text search for SQL Azure.

Scott said in Oslo that he’d been "working on Azure for the last two weeks," so he hasn’t had much time to leave his imprint on the Windows Azure Team.

MD: According to announcements at Tech-Ed North America last month, the June Windows Azure AppFabric CTP will offer developers a first look at Microsoft’s AppFabric Composition Model and related dev tools for managing multi-tier apps. What do you think of Microsoft’s approach and how is this problem solved by other cloud service providers?
RJ: Microsoft announced at PDC 2010 the AppFabric Composition Model and Visual Tools, as well as an App Fabric Container scheduled for a CTP in the first half of 2011. The AppFabric team reported at Tech-Ed 2011 that the June 2011 AppFabric CTP will include AppFabric Developer Tools to let you "visually design and build end-to-end applications on the Windows Azure platform," AppFabric Application Manager for runtime capabilities that enable "automatic deployment, management and monitoring of the end-to-end application" and provide "analytics from within the cloud management portal."

The Composition Model will be a "set of .NET Framework extensions for composing applications on the Windows Azure platform.... The Composition Model gets created by the AppFabric Developer Tools and used by the AppFabric Application Manager."

The June 2011 CTP isn’t available yet, but I expect it to provide a more advanced version of Amazon Web Services’ Elastic Beanstalk feature, as well as application management (DevOps) features offered by VMware and third-party cloud administration providers.

MD: Still no sign of the Windows Azure Platform Appliance at Tech-Ed. Any idea what’s happening with it?
RJ: News about the first commercial implementation of the Windows Azure Platform Appliance, which I call WAPA, finally emerged on June 7 in a joint Fujitsu/Microsoft press release. Fujitsu’s Global Cloud Platform service ("FGCP/A5") has been running WAPA on a trial basis in a Japanese data center since April 11. The service is scheduled for general release in August at ¥5 (US$0.0623) per hour for an Extra Small instance, not much more than Microsoft’s US$0.05 per hour charge.

Fujitsu says it expects to have "400 enterprise companies, 5,000 SMEs and ISVs [as customers] in a five-year period after the service launch." I was surprised to see a published sales target, which are uncommon for US tech firms. eBay has issued periodic details of their planned WAPA installation, but HP and Dell Computer, the other two partners Microsoft announced at last year’s World Wide Partners conference, have yet to announce their WAPA implementation plans.

MD: People also expected to see Visual Studio LightSwitch v1 after Beta 2 with a Go Live license was released in March. Have you heard anything about the final release?
RJ: Automated deployment of LightSwitch Beta 2 projects to Windows Azure was the most significant new feature for me. I’m a longtime Microsoft Access developer/writer, so I appreciate LightSwitch’s similar rapid application development (RAD) features with SQL Server and SQL Azure as back ends. As far as I know, Microsoft’s still mum (as usual) on LightSwitch’s RTM/RTW date. Beth Massi’s MSDN blog keeps you up to date on LightSwitch developments.

MD: What’s your take on the announcements at Tech-Ed and their significance to Windows Azure and SQL Azure developers?
RJ: New Windows Azure AppFabric features received most of the attention at Tech-Ed, probably because AppFabric is a primary distinguishing element of Microsoft’s PaaS (Platform as a Service). AppFabric’s May CTP is mostly about the Service Bus’s extension to support messaging with Queues, which replace the former Durable Message Buffers, and Topics, and are similar to Azure Data Services’ Queues.

Service Bus Queues provide dead-letter queues and message deferral. Topics deliver new pub/sub capabilities to Queues. Load balancing and traffic optimization for relay have been dropped temporarily in this CTP, but are expected to reappear later. The AppFabric Team and AppFabricCAT (Customer Advisory Team) blogs provide detailed explanations of these new features. The May CTP also includes an updated AppFabric Access Control Services (ACS) v2, which uses OpenID to integrate with Yahoo! and Google via the Azure Developer Portal, as well as other OpenID providers via management APIs. Vittorio Bertocci’s (@vibronet) MSDN blog is the best source of ACS v2 details.

MD: Windows 8 will support HTML and JavaScript as a first-class development target in the new OS, while support for Silverlight-based "immersive" apps via the Jupiter UI library is rumored. Any thoughts on how these Web-savvy platforms dovetail with Microsoft's cloud/Azure efforts?

RJ: You can be sure that Windows 8 will have many built-in "cloudy" features, but many will be provided by Windows Live Skydrive, not Windows Azure directly. Concentration on HTML+CSS+JavaScript development will result in a trend toward more use of OData and Windows Azure’s REST APIs than the currently popular .NET wrappers. Microsoft’s heavy investment in LightSwitch, a Silverlight-based RAD platform, is a strong indicator of continued Silverlight support in the Windows 8 era.

Posted by Michael Desmond on 06/10/2011

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