What is it?
It’s a platform where you can deploy and manage new services or even complete web applications into the “cloud”, in addition to make use of existing services already provided by the platform. This is often referred to as cloud computing. Today the Azure platform contains the following services: Windows Azure (the platform), Microsoft .Net Services, Microsoft SQL Services and Live Services. Microsoft SharePoint Services and Microsoft Dynamics CRM Services are also mentioned in relation to the platform. All of these services make up the Microsoft Azure Services Platform. By reading these names you may see the potential naming confusion? When you say Azure, do you mean Windows Azure or Azure Services Platform?
Now you may ask, what is it really? From a simplified developers perspective it’s a platform on the internet (the cloud). Instead of hosting your web application/service on your local server, you publish it into the cloud. In addition it gives you access to the services you need to build a multi-tier architecture. From another perspective it’s big monster of a datacenter providing you with a lot of data power (virtual Win 2008 servers) to do your stuff, giving you the option to scale up and down at will or dynamically.
How committed are Microsoft to this platform?
As committed as they’ve never ever been before with anything as far as I can remember! They invest heavily in the technology and infrastructure needed to support this platform. By heavily I mean they’ve told the marked that this is such a huge investment that it will highly impact Microsoft’s money bin. As an example of this, here’s a short description of what they’re doing with their datacenters needed to host this beast:
Every datacenter is set up of a grid of physical and virtual computers. These computers are delivered by HP and Dell and some in preconfigured shipping containers ready to be plugged in. I don’t mean the computers are ready to be plugged in, but the containers! What Microsoft then does is put a bunch of these containers close to a power plant (for obvious reasons), plug all the containers in and they’re up and running. At least that’s how it was described to me The applications, services, data etc you have put into this cloud is distributed across many VM’s, meaning if a VM or server (hosting VM’s) goes down, it’s not a problem. There is always some VM on some server holding your data. Actually the shipping containers I mentioned are remotely managed and MS never enters any of these containers for maintenance. If a computer goes down and does not come up again, it just stays down. If this happens to a certain number of servers within one container, the whole container is disconnected from the grid and sent back to HP or Dell to be fixed, without affecting any of the applications or services! This little story told by Clemens Vasters really says a lot of the scale on this monster!