2012
06.07

Azure, as it was previously, was a Platform-as-a-Service (PaaS), where developers could upload applications, run databases, and store data.  All that continues.  But there was no way to run virtual machines or websites like in traditional website or virtual private server (VPS) hosting.  PaaS on Azure looked very cool to developers with a lot of interesting back end services.  But the problem with PaaS is vendor lock-in.  You cannot take the application and move it to another hosting company like you can with a VM or a website; the code is written for Azure and its services.

Then a few years ago at the PDC conference, it was announced that virtual machine hosting was coming to Azure.  Surely this would give customers an atomic unit, a VM like we know in Hyper-V, that could be moved around?  Sort of.  The problem was that this proposed service would be stateless.  Reboot the VM and reset it back to its original state; data was stored on the other Azure services.  That’s not how we work with infrastructure so how could it be useful to us?

Then Mary Jo Foley reported many months ago that true stateful Infrastructure-as-a-Service (IaaS) was coming to Azure.  And yesterday, the details were announced by Microsoft.  They also released a document that gives a bit more detail on the new services:

Windows Azure Virtual Machines

You can take your normal Windows or Linux virtual machine workloads (Hyper-V compatible I guess), and run them in the public cloud (Azure).  These are persistent virtual machines, just like traditional VPS hosting.  The supported OSs at this point are:

  • Windows Server 2008 R2
  • Windows Server 2008 R2 with SQL Server 2012 Eval
  • Windows Server 2012 RC
  • Linux
  • OpenSUSE 12.1
  • CentOS-6.2
  • Ubuntu 12.04
  • SUSE Linux Enterprise Server 11 SP2

That looks pretty similar to the supported OSs for Hyper-V, with the addition of OpenSUSE 12.1.  I wonder if that’s in Hyper-V’s future?

Windows Azure Virtual Network

Question: Can I create a Hybrid cloud where I run services on my private cloud (in my data centre) and in a public cloud (Azure), where my public cloud service is not open to the entire Internet audience. 

Answer: Yes.  You can set up a site-site VPN using Windows Azure Virtual Network.  To be honest, some of the clues to this have been around for quite a while.  Take a look at some of the MSFT slides for Windows Server 2012, especially around VPN.

This is interesting:

With Virtual Network, IT administrators can extend on-premises networks into the cloud with control over network topology, including configuration of IP addresses, routing tables and security policies.

Does that sound familiar?  Do you think that there’s a bigger vision here, with MSFT providing a unified solution for public and private cloud, including Windows Server 2012 and Windows Azure Services?  You should.

Windows Azure Web Sites

Some people just want space to host a website.  Something nice and simple.  That’s exactly how I run this blog; I have a simple account that allows me X websites, space, and traffic.  I then upload/install a web app in the space and away I go, talking shite for years on end Smile

And when it comes to host, that’s the majority of what people want.  It’s enough of an online presence for the majority businesses, more flexible than the alternative that MSFT offered: SharePoint in Office 365.  Welcome Windows Azuer Web Sites:

…easily build and deploy websites with support for multiple frameworks and popular open source applications, including ASP.NET, PHP and Node.js. With just a few clicks, developers can take advantage of Windows Azure’s global scale without having to worry about operations, servers or infrastructure.

They go on:

It is easy to deploy existing sites, if they run on Internet Information Services (IIS) 7, or to build new sites, with a free offer of 10 websites upon signup, with the ability to scale up as needed with reserved instances.

Did I just read the word “free”?  Really?  What’s the catch?  Surely there is a catch?

This isn’t just for .NET and SQL Server either:

  • Multiple frameworks including ASP.NET, PHP and Node.js
  • Popular open source software apps including WordPress, Joomla!, Drupal, Umbraco and DotNetNuke
  • Windows Azure SQL Database and MySQL databases
  • Multiple types of developer tools and protocols including Visual Studio, Git, FTP, Visual Studio Team Foundation Services and Microsoft WebMatrix

Windows Azure Management Portal

The most difficult piece of hosting is not the web servers and it’s not the virtualisation layer.  The most difficult piece is the portal, or as it’s traditionally known in the hosting business, the control panel. 

… the new Windows Azure Management Portal provides an integrated management experience across Windows Azure workloads in a single, modern user experience and is accessible from various platforms and devices.

The Windows Azure Preview Portal supports the following services:

  • Cloud Services
  • Virtual Machines (Preview)
  • Web Sites (Preview)
  • Virtual Network (Preview)
  • SQL Database (formerly known as SQL Azure)
  • Storage

There are other Azure improvements in this announcement, so check out the aforementioned document to get the details.

Online Presentation

Microsoft is running an online presentation later today to launch these new services.  It is on at 9PM Irish/UK time (10PM CET), and unfortunate time of day to choose for such an event.  A 9am PST event would have been better, then being 5pm UK/Irish time and 6PM CET.

What Does All This Mean?

Nothing has been announced but we could speculate Smile  At Build it was made clear that lots of lessons were learned from Azure to make Hyper-V better.  Network Virtualisation was pitched as a way to move VMs from the private cloud to a public cloud (exactly what Azure is) with minimal disruption.  So maybe you could move Hyper-V VMs right up there!  Could that be partly why we have Shared Nothing Live Migration?  That’s a bit of a stretch, because Live Migration does require bandwidth.

One of the sales pitches with Hyper-V Replica is virtual DR in the cloud.  Hmm, what if you could replicate VMs to Azure?  But don’t forget that there’s more to virtual DR than starting up your VMs.  Remember that user’s need a way to access the services, assuming that their PCs are burned down or under a flood too (see VDI or virtual RDS).

I think over the next 2 years we could see some very interesting ways for us to expand our infrastructure footprint into Azure, and in ways we might not be expecting … yet another reason to be considering Windows Server 2012 instead of the alternative.

What About Other Hosting Companies?

There are a few reasons that I chose to get out of the hosting business back in 2010.  One of the big ones was that I saw the writing on the wall.  The likes of HP, Dell, Amazon, and Microsoft are too big to compete with on a large scale.  Yes, there are lots of customers who will want the bespoke services that a boutique and local hosting company can offer, but there aren’t that many of them.  And the year 2012 reminds me of the year 2001: everyone with a modem is launching a cloud (hosting) company.  Not many of them will be around in 2014, and very few of those extinctions will be because of acquisition (the good way to go out of business).

Hosting companies that are Microsoft partners might feel like their partner relationship is strained this morning.  MSFT can be cheaper and out market you just by their pure scale.  Service innovation will be the key.  Do it better.  Give a more human service where there’s an account manager and the helpdesk is more responsive.  Offer engineering and customisation services (consulting).  Don’t sell space … because this is a commodity market and the big guy always wins.  At least, that’s what I think.

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