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SOA - Integration Industry Pulse

Beth Gold-Bernstein

Microsoft's Azure Cloud Computing Platform

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This week at its developers' conference Microsoft announced, Azure, its new cloud computing platform, and gave analysts a peek during a conference call. The industry trends of cheap computing, cheap storage, high bandwidth, and a proliferation of devices with internet connections, are creating a demand for cloud based computing, according to Microsoft. Microsoft is calling this the "third tier of computing" in which the first two tiers are functionally rich PCs, back end application servers, and then the Web tier that supports both personal and business processes. Never mind this fact that this is a gross simplification of distributed tiered computing, the general idea is that the Web will become an application tier.
Microsoft is describing this tier as software plus services. These services include comprehensive development services, consistent programming models (read .NET only here), security and privacy, and control and customization. Below is how Microsoft is depicting the capabilities of the platform.

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Microsoft will provide Azure as a SaaS offering which will only be hosted in Microsoft data centers. Initially the services will be accessible from anywhere, but will be hosted in the US. Eventally Microsoft is planning data centers around the world. There are no plans to ship versions which can be deployed within the enterprise. Microsoft is going to provide an SDK so developers can design, test and run application on a local machine before deploying to the cloud. While Azure supports REST, SOAP and XML, only .NET services can be deployed on the platform.

Azure includes advanced tracing and logging to allow development personnel to understand what is happening with the application. It provides rules based access control. The ESB will provide integration with other applications. While Microsoft stated that the problems of traditional integration can be resolved through mediation through messaging, and cloud computing offers a way to connect with partners and suppliers, to me there was a disconnect in this message. SaaS platforms offer cost effect solutions when partners and suppliers can simply connect with one platform

Microsoft stated they have been providing SQL Services in the cloud since the Spring of this year, and the service has proved popular with developers seeing an expensive way to scale out storage. However, the question remains as to how organizations will use cloud computing in the future. Neil McAllister of Infoworld makes some very good points about cloud computing creating lock in. He also sites issues with version control, and keeping up with new versions of the cloud platform and how that will impact existing applications, or more precisely, force you to change them. All important to keep in mind when evaluating development and deployment platforms.

My major concern is manageability. My consistent mantra for the past 20 years of designing distributed systems has been "Don't build what you can't manage". I asked Microsoft about testing these cloud apps. Answer - not there yet, it's a good opportunity for partners to provide a solution.

What about managing the services in the cloud? Microsoft's repository is Oslo. However there is no specific plug in to integrate the management of policies and SLAs for the cloud based services. Microsoft stated that this may be coming sometime next year. In fairness to Microsoft, I think this is a general issue in the industry. There are too many different repositories for different kinds of policies and no integration or federation between them. Bottom line - how do you manage the policies end to end? This is a general issue that organizations should be a bit concerned about.

How about security, a very big concern with cloud computing. Microsoft realizes this. Their answer today "they will be providing additional information as they go forward with the platform."

Azure is not yet GA and Microsoft has not yet announced a release date. We are still in the very early days of cloud computing. What should organizations be doing now? I think they should be evaluating what makes sense to put in the cloud. Data services and on-demand as needed, off-site storage makes a lot of sense to me. How many of you now are backing up your laptops with an online service? Collaborative applications also make a lot of sense. These types of applications are easier and cheaper to deploy in the cloud. Another use of Azure would be to make Microsoft applications, such as Office, available as a SaaS offering. This would make a lot of sense given the rise of Google apps.

So while cloud computing is certainly in our future, my advice to organizations is to move cautiously, see what makes economic and business sense, and DON'T BUILD OR DEPLOY WHAT YOU CAN'T MANAGE!

For more information on Azure, check out David Chappell's white paper, available on the Microsoft site.

Industry trends and vendor spotlights from Beth Gold-Bernstein.

Beth Gold-Bernstein

Beth Gold-Bernstein is a recognized expert in integration technologies and SOA with over 20 years experience View more

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