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Microsoft Details Azure Cloud Development

Anticipating rapid growth in public and private clouds, Microsoft has dedicated 30,000 engineers to Azure, Bing, and online versions of Office and Live.

Microsoft is plunging into cloud services to give its customers a range of choices in public and private cloud computing, said Doug Hauger, general manager of Windows Azure, at the All About the Cloud show in San Francisco Tuesday.

Microsoft expects both kinds of clouds to expand rapidly as customers begin to try out various ways to achieve flexibility and savings. In the Windows Azure cloud, Microsoft is building in software tools and services that will allow applications running on premises to coordinate their activities with operations in the cloud. Development in the cloud will "accelerate the speed of application development. What once took months or years to build will be built in days or weeks, then deployed in the cloud," he predicted.

Although Microsoft has geared up collaborative features in Visual Studio and aligns its .Net technologies with Azure, it's also possible to run Java, Python, PHP, and Ruby in the Microsoft cloud. It's not just for C# and Visual Basic, he said. "You can lift up a Python application from Google App Engine and run it on Azure, then move it back again," he suggested.

Azure SQL will recognize data from and coordination actions with SQL Server on premises. The Azure Application Fabric will coordinate messaging between applications, Hauger said.

In another sense, cloud computing is a new hardware model where the end user can rent a server by the hour for a single job, or alternatively get a server cluster for high performance computing, when he needs one.

"Microsoft has made deep investments in infrastructure. We've spent $2 billion on cloud infrastructure. We can bring in tens of thousands of commodity servers," he said. The firm is building six large data centers around the world to support its Bing search engine and other cloud initiatives. One outside Chicago has been built to hold 300,000 servers, although it remains short of that mark to date.

"You can deploy a Web site to an environment where it will have global reach (being hosted in data centers around the world) or you can do local, high performance computing on a massive scale," he noted.

Microsoft claims 30,000 of its engineers are now working on cloud services, which would include the upcoming online version of its Office and Live business applications. It's adopted the practice of replicating application data in more than one location as a way of guaranteeing data recoverability, even if a piece of hardware fails. The practice is adapted from pioneering methods of implementing software in cloud, such as Hadoop and Google's Big Table.

Early in its genesis, Azure is offering service level agreements, unlike Amazon Web Services, which offered EC2 as a beta cloud without SLAs for two years. Now in its third year, it offers the agreements as well.

Cloud computing is not just about what business users can do from their laptops and desktop browser windows connected to some remote server, he noted. "The cloud wants richer and richer devices," such as handhelds capable of running sophisticated applications geared to them and connected to a powerful backend in the cloud.

In answer to a question from the audience, he said Microsoft is working on making its licensing agreements more compatible with cloud computing. Stay tuned, he seemed to say. "You have to have a choice to move things around, we understand that," he said.

Microsoft's Azure became a generally available cloud resource on Feb. 1.

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