What’s New in Windows Azure?
- select the contributor at the end of the page -
What Is Windows Azure?
Windows Azure is a platform for cloud computing that is used to create, deploy and maintain applications using data centers around the globe managed by Microsoft. The platform allows for the use of various programming languages, frameworks and tools. You could also use your own public cloud applications on Windows Azure.
With Windows Azure, you are always on and up. You can finally focus on building the apps you need without having to worry about the infrastructure. It is an open platform that is compatible with any tool, language or framework. You also get to use data centers scattered around the world, from Chicago and San Antonio, to Hong Kong and Singapore, to Amsterdam and Dublin, among others.
Benefits of Using Windows Azure
According to Debra Littlejohn Shinder at TechRepublic, aside from being able to scale to size, saving on costs and having a data center on the cloud, Windows Azure also allows you to take advantage of the benefits of using the cloud for your business needs. There are a lot of other benefits that come from using Windows Azure. For one, Azure is based on something we are all familiar with: Windows. You can write apps in the same programming languages you have used for Windows such as C++ and Visual Basic.
Each of the apps you use on Azure run on its own virtual machine using a 64-bit Windows Server 2008 installation and a hypervisor that is specifically made for the cloud.
Further, you can have the Azure SDK run on your own computer, which allows you to work locally and then put everything on the cloud afterwards.
Lastly, Azure is compatible with just about any standard and Internet protocol, has a wide range of support such as MSDN and Technet, and is very secure.
Perhaps one of the best benefits of using Azure is that Microsoft often listens to what features are needed by its users and regularly comes up with updates to help improve usability and user experience on the platform. After its commercial launch in February 2010, Azure has seen five major updates from Microsoft. We are going to focus on the last two updates, made in 2012.
According to Brad Calder on MSDN Blogs, in an update in June 2012, Windows Azure was fortified with these new features:
- New version of the REST API. The new features are accessible on either the Azure Portal or using the REST service management API. The whole Azure ecosystem is based on the REST API, so if you tweak the API, you could customize Azure to work the way you want it. You would also be able to add, delete or modify certain processes thus allowing you to do things differently or automate some processes.
- Expanded Blob Copy. In older versions of Azure, copy blob was only possible if you were working with blob containers within the same storage account. With the June 2012 update, it is now possible to copy blobs across different storage accounts. What's more, it has become an asynchronous operation, meaning that it can perform various operations simultaneously per second.
- Improved Blob Resources Leasing. You can now lease blob containers and do it infinitely. Shorter-term lease durations from 15 to 60 seconds are also possible. You could also customize your lease ID instead of having Azure do it for you. This will help you lock a blob so that it is not modified or deleted by someone else. Also, if you have a multi-threaded environment, you can easily manage concurrency.
- Tables and Queues Now Have Shared Access Signatures. The old version of Azure required you to have storage account owner access in order to perform any operations on table resources. This has changed in the June 2012 update. You can now create a SAS token that you insert into a URL. Anybody who has that signed URL will be able to access table resources without having to get into your storage account. Same thing goes for queued resources.
If you use the Windows Azure Management Portal, you would also love these improvements that Microsoft introduced to help you easily manage your storage accounts.
- You can now choose between locally redundant storage or geo-redundant storage. GRS is turned on by default and this allows you to have an exact same copy of your table and blob data in two separate locations hundreds of miles apart. If you do not want that, you might want to turn off GRS and choose locally redundant storage instead, which creates a copy of your blob and table data in the same location as your primary storage.
- You can now monitor storage metrics in your account. What's more, you will also be able to configure your metrics and logging features.
Just last October 2012, Microsoft announced yet another round of changes.
According to Microsoft, these changes include:
- Windows Azure now supports Windows Server 2012 & .NET 4.5. Windows Server 2012 now appears as a guest operating system for Azure and delivers hundreds of other features for both developers and IT professionals. Not enough? You can now write .NET 4.5 applications for use on Azure.
- Distributed caching now in general availability.
- Visual Studio Team Foundation Service is now available for free for development teams with up to five users. TFService on Windows Azure provides app developers with application lifecycle management services.
You can also preview support for:
- Windows Phone 8 - With the launch of Azure's mobile service just weeks prior to this update, you can now have a scalable cloud backend for your mobile and client applications, and with the launch of Windows 8, you can now see how it will work with Azure.
- Windows Azure Store - This allows developers to have third-party add-ons that can be managed and accessed directly from the developer's portal.
Windows Azure may have a lot of formidable competitors such as Google App Engine, Rackspace Cloud, Amazon Web Services, and IBM SmartCloud Services, among others. But you might want to leverage on the benefits of using a platform that is backed by one of the giants in the industry. What's more, it is encouraging to see how committed they are to adding more features and enhancing functionality in an already robust PaaS offering.