Over the next couple of weeks I’ll do a series of posts specifically targeted at this topic.
To get a level set on the topic, and trying to answer one of the most frequently asked questions from the non-core developer audience: What is Windows Azure?
You can find a lot a detail at the www.windowsazure.com site but I’ll try to give a best possible summary below;
Windows® Azure™ is Microsoft’s cloud services platform, designed to host web services and applications in Microsoft-owned, Internet-accessible data centers. Windows Azure provides four elemental services: compute services, storage services, a computing fabric and automated services management.
Goal: Massive application scalability by enabling multiple application instances, replicated as needed. There are two types of application instances:
- Web Role, for interfacing with users and web services via HTTP/HTTPS, TCP/IP and ports other than 80 and 443.
- Worker Role, for “background” processing, like a Windows service
Applications are built with web role instances, worker role instances, or combinations of both.
Goal: Scalable, durable, utility-based storage. There are four components of Windows Azure storage:
- Blobs: Large, unstructured data (audio, video, etc.)
- Tables: Massive amounts of simply structured data
- Queues: Messages or requests, allowing web-roles and worker-roles to interact
- Drives : Durable NTFS file system volumes sharable across instances
For more complex data requirements, you can also use SQL Azure for relational data or use MySQL within a Virtual Machine (VM).
Goal: Simple abstraction of the hundreds of servers dedicated to hosting Windows Azure. Each server currently runs one of four variable sized dynamically allocated Virtual Machines (VM), automatically managed by the fabric controller.
The Fabric Controller
Goal: Automated management of Windows Azure services and hosted applications.
The fabric controller performs load balancing, backup, replication, failover, scale up, scale down, roll back to previous versions, and simple management and deployment of applications and services via APIs
So the obvious next question than is; “How does this benefit me as a Service Provider? I have invested in my infrastructure and I can provide my customers with all services they ask for.”
What are the potential business opportunities for Service Providers?
The massive datacenters that are being build as part of the Microsoft Global Foundation Service (GFS) enable 2 unique aspects that any Service Provider will struggle to support; almost unlimited scale-out storage and burst capacity. Right now, this is where we see an immediate opportunity that Windows Azure can enable.
- Scale Storage: Add cloud storage to an on-premises or hosted application, providing a service that enables secure and controlled sharing of data among stakeholders, partners and vendors, or cloud-based archival of mail and other corporate documentation.
- BURST Capacity: Utilize Windows Azure compute power to process data, as in the case of large-scale data mining or graphical rendering of large amounts of data.
We have produced 3 case studies that highlight these scenarios in an actual Service Provider environment;
Next post I will provide more context on the partner model and how the integration between Service Provider infrastructure and Windows Azure can help to create brand new types of offerings and support differentiation in market.