I attended the PDC party that was held by Microsoft Ireland. During his keynote, Bob Muglia talked about the soon-to-be-beta Azure VM Role. This is a new feature of MS’s cloud service.
Azure that you know now is Platfor-as-a-Service (PaaS). PaaS provides a framework that a developer can develop an application on, store data in, etc. It’s a lock-in, i.e. if you decide that Azure isn’t for you then you can’t move your application. You will have to redevelop it.
VM Role gives Azure customers Infrastructure-as-a-Service (IaaS) which you may know as VPS hosting, similar to what Amazon EC2 does. You get a virtual machine with a Windows Server 2008 R2 OS, the roles, features, etc. You can RDP into it, etc. You can develop your application and the good news is that anything you do here will be possible to do on other hosting platforms, i.e. your application is portable.
But this is much more than VPS.
Let’s start at the management portal. It looks just like System Center Virtual Machine Manager (VMM) v.Next. That’s the tool that Hyper-V administrators will use to manage many Hyper-V hosts. There’s a good reason for this which I’ll come back to later. An Azure customer can quickly deploy new VMs from a template. The VM is provisioned and you log into it. I didn’t hear all of this but it looked like that the RDP login might have used your Live ID. That would be cool if it did.
Services such as SQL (database) and IIS (web) will be virtualised using Server App-V. That means SQL is running in a sandbox or virtual machine within the virtual machine. This means these services can be quickly deployed without doing the usual setup.exe-next-next-configuration routine. It also means that MS can patch their OS templates, and your provisioned VM’s can be swapped out from underneath the virtual services. That SQL server will magically stay running while MS patches the OS! That is sweet! It’s also a feature of VMM v.Next.
A nice thing that I did not expect was cross-premises integration. Your Azure VMs can be members of your internal Active Directory domain(s). Now you have a single sign-on infrastructure. You could use Azure as a DR site. You could use it for automated elastic computing services. You could use it as an alternative virtualisation platform.
And that brings us to Hyper-V. We have been told that a future version of VMM (maybe v.Next) will allow us to move VMs from our private cloud (essentially an internal Hyper-V infrastructure) to the public cloud as needed. For example, a developer could produce an application on cheap internal resources that are conveniently located. When it’s ready, it could be put into production with a VM move onto Azure. There’s no redeployment of all the resources.
The messy bit with cross-premises VM migrations will be the licensing, i.e. volume licensing versus SPLA. The price of per CPU licensing in SPLA will scare a lot of people. And if it isn’t SPLA then MS can expect class action and/or anti-monopoly court cases.
If you are a System Center house then there’s great news. The cumulative update 3 release of OpsMgr 2007 along with a new Azure management pack (RC release but supported in production) will mean you can monitor internal and Azure infrastructure/platform applications with one management system. You can even build distributed application and/or SLA monitoring for off-premises/on-premises/cross-premises applications/systems.
Azure VM Role will go into CTP/beta sometime by the end of 2010. My guess is that RTM will be between MMS and PDC 2011. I would bet that VMM v.Next (2011) will need to be RTM at the same time or before Azure VM Role.
These are very exciting times to be in the virtualisation or cloud world. On the other hand, it is not going to be a great time to be working for a small or medium sized hosting company. Microsoft and Amazon are effectively stepping on the necks of these competitors and twisting. It’s very difficult to compete with what they do and the prices (which are impossible to understand/budget for) that they offer. Anyone who is a MS hosting “partner” will have to realise that they compete with MS and find a unique selling point (USP). There are two things I see:
- The Patriot Act: I’ve talked long about this before and won’t go back over it in detail. Anyone outside of the USA that is worried about data protection needs to be concerned about operating in a US owned (not located) data centre.
- Support: A smaller operator will be able to provide much better and more personal support than Amazon or MS. Fact! They will always be the big, remote organization that will be slower to respond. Smaller providers will be able to support their customers more. By the way, there’s probably going to be a market for MS/Amazon partners to support/monitor MS/Amazon cloud services on behalf of their clients, offering a 1st line of support that MS/Amazon cannot do themselves in a timely manner.
The rules of the game haven’t changed; the game has changed. The virtualisation wars just become much, much bigger.
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