Interestingly, Microsoft is already discussing a few details of pricing. Like other cloud platforms, pricing will be based on usage and service-level agreements. Microsoft is known for high volume, low price, so Ozzie also committed to "competitive" pricing.
10:10 a.m. Microsoft is showing off the Microsoft Services Connector, a tool to allow an admins to control elements of Microsoft services. The impressive thing here was federated identity. It's unclear how this will be used beyond Microsoft Online Services with third-party apps, but with basically one or two mouse clicks, a company can allow anyone in its directory to access Microsoft services. This comes back to the simplicity theme. Microsoft and other companies need to make it very easy to connect to the cloud in order to accelerate the trend, and features like federated identity push that envelope.
9:45 a.m. Ever wondered how your data center performance compares to other companies? Microsoft just announced System Center "Atlanta," a Windows Azure app to do just that. The premise is that companies will be able to upload operations data to the cloud, generate reports on their own performance, and compare it against other companies. It's a good idea of the kinds of things a cloud platform might be able to do that companies couldn't do on their own.
Still, obviously, this would seem to raise many security and privacy questions. Would it be anonymous and secure? Right now, it's not clear, but we can only hope. I would have wished for more reassurance, and as it's so early, we may here more later.
In general, though, it is an interesting idea. Azure connects to an on-premises System Center deployment (no word if other management software would eventually be supported), transmits data back to Azure and SQL Services, transforms it into a form companies can do analysis against, and puts that data into an ASP.Net portal application to visualize performance and see scorecards.
9:20 a.m. Ease of use... that's one of the first keys to Windows Azure, it seems. First off, developers can use whatever tool they want to write the app, though they are limited (for now) to using .Net. For the next step, Microsoft is showing off something called Azure Services Developer Portal. Developers go to the site, click on a button to create a hosted service, choose a DNS name (at cloudapp.net), upload the config settings and the app package, click deploy, wait a few minutes, and then run the app. It really does seem pretty simple.
Here comes the first Windows Azure demo, a mobile social networking tool called Bluehoo. The app itself is sort of underwhelming for being the first app to be demoed on the platform, but it really does seem to be easy to interact with Windows Azure.
The app itself was written in C# on Visual Studio, so unlike on a few other PaaS systems like Salesforce.com's Force.com, Bluehoo developers didn't need to learn any new programming languages or tools. That said, many developers are no longer using Visual Studio or .Net, and Windows Azure starts out only supporting .Net. More developer support is expected later (PHP, Eclipse), but for now developers are indeed a bit limited, albeit at least to popular developer languages.
Scaling the app also seems easy, but it's unclear if companies can automatically scale their applications. You go to a Windows management console, click configure, and change the number of instances you need for an app, and voila.
9 a.m. Microsoft chief software architect Ray Ozzie just announced Windows Azure, a.k.a. Project Red Dog, a.k.a. Windows-as-a-service. Consider it Microsoft's answer to Amazon EC2, plus. In fact, though Microsoft was already working on this project before Amazon announced EC2, Ozzie said that the entire industry owes credit to Amazon. It's an admission that Microsoft will really have to bring it if it hopes to beat out the platform-as-a-service pioneers.
"In some ways, we're all standing on their shoulders," he said, before going on to talk about how what Microsoft is doing is much broader than what Amazon did by offering access to raw computing power as a service.
In addition to the utility computing platform itself, Microsoft plans to offer a seemingly wide set of services based on Windows, SQL Server, SharePoint, Microsoft Dynamics and the .Net Framework that all run on Windows Azure, which Ozzie also referred to as "Windows Cloud."
Thus far, the focus of Windows Azure seems to be primarily enterprises and developers. Microsoft is pushing high availability, security, and scalability in a big way, as well as the ability to use skills developers and enterprise admins already know. That's key if they want to bring hesitant CIOs and developers into the cloud and peel others away from existing services.