Microsoft: Enterprises will be able to self-host Windows Azure

Future versions of Windows Server will enable companies to efficiently manage and provide virtualized applications through the Web just like Microsoft Corp.'s upcoming platform as a service, Windows Azure, a company executive said this week.

“The innovation in Azure and future versions of Windows Server will be shared, and that code base will continue to cross-pollinate,” said Steven Martin, senior director for developer platform product management at Microsoft, in an interview. “The corporate data center at some point in time will look like a mini-cloud, partitioned by application workload.”

First previewed last fall, Windows Azure is Microsoft's foray into bringing Windows Server online as a cloud computing platform. Developers will be able to port or write applications using Microsoft's popular .Net tools and Web standard interfaces such as REST, SOAP and Atom, and host them on Azure, similar to Inc.'s EC2, Inc.'s, or Google Inc.'s App Engine.

Azure is expected to be released later this year. Detailed pricing hasn't been released. Microsoft is expected to talk about Azure at its MIX Web development conference in Las Vegas next week.

Conventional hosting entails companies buying or leasing a server from a data center operator and running a set number of applications off it. That can be complicated to manage, entail a lot of upfront cost, and can be difficult to scale quickly on demand.

Azure, like other newer-generation cloud platforms, enables faster setup and easier scaling, and lets users pay for usage, thus avoiding upfront investment.

“Our goal is to completely hide the complexity of hardware from developers,” Martin said.

Martin mentioned several Azure beta testers. One, a company called S3Edge Inc., helps manufacturers recall defective products.

“Ideally, a product doesn't get recalled and they don't need to activate our service,” Martin said. “But if it does, they need to be prepared to scale very fast.”

An independent software vendor, Epicor Software Corp., is writing the next version of its ERP software so it can be hosted via Azure, Martin said, while another, Micro Focus (IP) Ltd., is taking Cobol applications off a mainframe and hosting them on Azure (as well as Inc.'s EC2) for its customers.

Azure runs on Windows Server 2008 inside Microsoft's data centers. The fact that Microsoft offers both Windows Server software and the Azure service as part of its “software+services” strategy, is a plus for companies unsure about committing completely to a cloud infrastructure, Martin said, whether because they think they can run it cheaper or with more agility, or because regulations require them to do so.

“We make it really easy for you to transition back to on-premises without having to completely rewrite your app. You control your own destiny,” Martin said. By contrast, “if I'm a start-up, it's gotta be in the back of my mind when I look at's 10-K, that 'Gosh, they may want to go back to just selling books.'”

Besides corporations, Web hosting companies may be interested in hosting Azure to make their infrastructure more nimble and efficient. Martin said hosting companies and other application service providers won't get access to Azure before enterprises, though.

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