PDC Keynote – Windows Azure Arrives

I love the Terminator movies.  That’s why I need to share this fact—Skynet has finally arrived, and it’s called Windows Azure.

In short, Windows Azure is Microsoft’s platform for cloud-based services and applications. It’s a platform on which you can deploy your own applications, leveraging Microsoft-supplied hosting, service management, data services, and scalability.  It’s also the platform that Microsoft is using to host all of their subscription-based enterprise services, like Live Services and SQL Services.  (Umm, eventually, I think).

Or maybe it’s Skynet—the network that allows the machines to finally take over.  It’s hard to tell.  Maybe not—Steve Ballmer looks not a bit like the Terminator.

Because I’m not an enterprise software sort of guy, some of the stuff in the keynote made my eyes glaze over.  When Dave Thompson started demoing Sharepoint and Microsoft Dynamics CRM Services, I found myself having a truly deep I-don’t-really-give-a-crap reaction.  It’s just hard to get pumped up about timesheets and status reports.

On the other hand, there are things Ray mentioned that hint at being fairly interesting.  If the Azure platform really makes it simple to scale out a web app, that would be cool.  Or if they can provide SQL Server data services to web-based apps in a simple way, that would also be cool.

Ray was talking about two basic things today:

  • Windows Azure — the underlying platform for cloud-based services
  • Microsoft’s services that are based on Azure

For Azure as a platform, the mom-and-apple-pie speaking points are attractive:

  • Move Microsoft’s expertise for scaling web-based apps into a platform
  • Easy to scale up/out
  • Easy to deploy globally  (i.e. not just to server sitting in some city)
  • Federated identity, allowing enterprise identities to move into cloud

Ray also showed the various Microsoft services that will be available to applications/organizations, and which run on Azure:

  • Live Services
  • .NET Services
  • SQL Services
  • SharePoint Services
  • Microsoft Dynamics CRM Services

Live Services—seems to be the “kitchen sink” category.  Possible pieces include Live Mesh for synchronized storage, and interop with other Windows Live bits, like Messenger and Photo Gallery.  Maybe I missed something, but I don’t think that Muglia really talked about this box.  More info on Live Services here.

.NET Services—Muglia touched briefly on these higher-level application services that are built on top of Azure.  They include: Service Bus (connect applications over the Internet), Access Control (federated identity based on claims), and Workflow Service (running Workflow in the cloud).  More info on .NET Services here.

SQL Services—SQL Server “in the cloud”, available to your web apps.  This is basically just a subscription model for SQL Server, where you “pay as you go” and get access to SQL Server data stores in a scalable fashion.  For more info, go here.

SharePoint Services—blah blah blah enterprise blah blah

Microsoft Dynamics CRM Services—see SharePoint Services

Oslo

I forget who was talking at the time, maybe Muglia or maybe Ozzie.  But on one of the high-level slides included Oslo as a little blurb.  Oslo is a new platform for modeling applications and creating domain-specific languages.  Promises to be very interesting, especially given that Don Box and Chris Sells are on this team.

Demos

What would a keynote be without cool demos by Microsoft partners, who have put their gonads on the line by using the new Microsoft technologies in some production environment.  Microsofties at the keynote (Amitabh?) alluded to the need for demos by admitting that a new platform wasn’t that sexy—you really need a cool demo to see what it’s capable of.

I’m sorry to say that the main example of an application built on Azure was a British startup, bluehoo.com, whose purpose in life is for mobile users to discover other mobile users sitting near them by using a little animated blue avatar.  WTF?!  We already have that application.  It goes like this: a) stand up; b) turn to your right; c) extend hand; d) introduce yourself.

Bluehoo.com seems a major fail.  The demo didn’t really show off any of the true Azure goodness that was being touted.  The closest it came was their CEO saying that he’d have to go tweak his Azure configuration to bring more servers online.  Maybe they might have done some sort of animated load testing to prove their point?  Worse yet, the bluehoo.com site is DOA—nothing more than a linkback to a twitter feed.  Ugh.  Bluehoo would have made a fine Silverlight 2 demo, but as an Azure demo it was pretty thin.

Takeaways

As lackluster as the demos were, the rollout of Azure really is a big deal.  Azure demos aren’t as flashy as the NBC Olympics site that was demoed with the rollout of Silverlight 2.  But Azure really is more about the back-end anyway—it’s truly a platform for developing scalable web applications.  The man on the street won’t know (or care) about it.  But for web developers, Skynet truly is here.

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