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Updated Windows Azure VMs Give Developers Flexibility

A revamped version of Microsoft's Windows Azure cloud service released a month ago today now gives developers the long-awaited capability of deploying their own servers and virtual machines. Eric Boyd, founder and CEO of the Chicago-based consulting and integration firm ResponsiveX, explained how developers can spin up VMs in the revamped Windows Azure Wednesday at the Visual Studio Live! conference in Chicago.

Until last month's release of the new Windows Azure infrastructure as a service (IaaS), Microsoft's three-year old cloud offering was only a platform as a service (PaaS). At last spring's Visual Studio Live! conference in Brooklyn, N.Y., Boyd, a Windows Azure MVP, suggested that VMs were a key ingredient that would flesh out the Windows Azure service.

While Windows Azure PaaS offered more application level services such as middleware and databases, it lacked the control IaaS offers, notably to spin up a VM or stand up a traditional version of SQL Server, SharePoint or BizTalk, or for that matter just basic server and storage infrastructure, Boyd explained.

The new added control is particularly important to developers looking to quickly set up test and development environments, Boyd said. "This is probably one of the most compelling scenarios for all of us," he said. "I know when I use to dev all the time in corporate America, in an awful number of scenarios where I just needed a dev environment with a Web server an app server, and a database server, waiting on IT to provision that took  forever, and slowed us down and didn't make a lot of sense."

Now in Windows Azure, a developer can just run through a quick wizard in the online management console and in 15 minutes, have an entire dev and test environment spun up. "I'm no longer waiting on IT to do something," Boyd said, plus it eliminates the capital outlay needed to provision a large server, storage and network environment, as well as the resources to manage them, he explained.

Boyd demonstrated how a developer can deploy a VM by logging into the Windows Azure management portal and selecting the necessary infrastructure. That may include a Linux or Windows server, SQL Server or SharePoint, Boyd explained. Developers can also set up VPN tunnels for those who want to connect premises infrastructure in hybrid type environments. 

"That allows you to leave some of your applications on premise, and some of your applications in the cloud," he said. "Maybe it's Active Directory, maybe you want to leave your Active Directory store on premise. If you want to connect back to other apps like SQL or BizTalk or SharePoint, you can do that."

There are some downsides to using IaaS versus PaaS. When using IaaS, developers are responsible for configuring and maintaining the operating system and app server.

While PaaS is more turnkey, in many cases it's less likely to simulate a traditional datacenter environment, Boyd explained. "Sometimes we run into scenarios in the PaaS platforms, where runtimes and middleware are just not installed," he said. "You might be able to script an install in the Web or worker roles but it might not be the most convenient thing to do. There are many reasons why that just doesn't work at all. Maybe that install really takes a long time. In your Web or worker role in a cloud service, you can script the install to happen when that machine starts up, but it really needs to happen in five minutes. If it's a long install, the cloud service breaks down and doesn't work well."

Now that Microsoft's IaaS is available, Boyd said it is more appealing for organizations to run line of business apps such as CRM, BI and identity services in Windows Azure. In an interview after the session, Boyd said that has led to increased deployments by his clients. "It's been nuts."

Posted by Jeffrey Schwartz on 05/16/2013

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