Kevin Remde's IT Pro Weblog
As you may recall from Part 6 (PaaS), Windows Azure is Microsoft’s implementation of Platform-as-a-Service. In a nutshell, it means that you build your application, configure your data, and load it up into “the cloud”, where it can be easily scaled and managed on top of our operating-system-in-the-cloud. And that’s great if you have or are building applications that can run and easily scale up-or-down that way. But what if you have an existing application that is more difficult to install? Or maybe the installation, even though quiet installs can be launched at the time a new instance is created in Windows Azure, is more complex, or takes a long time. There are times when you might want to just build the virtual machine yourself. Install and configure the application ahead of time, and upload it into the cloud.
“Yeah, I could see doing that sometimes.”
Well.. that’s where the VM Role comes in. The VM Role is not like a Worker Role or Web Role in Windows Azure in the sense that it isn’t just instances of an application running on server instances; it’s your own installed and virtualized server (running Windows Server 2008 R2) that can be uploaded into Azure, duplicated into one or more running instances, has your application already installed and configured on it.
“Sounds awesome. When would I use this?”
Well, as I said.. whenever you’ve got an application that isn’t otherwise easy to let Windows Azure install upon the spin-up of a new instance of your role.. that’s when you might want to build it yourself.
“Sounds like IaaS! What’s the catch?”
The biggest catch is that it is NOT IaaS! Let me repeat that, because it’s very easy to look at it and say “Oh.. I upload and manage my own virtual machine.. so it’s all mine to run on Microsoft’s infrastructure.”, which sounds a lot like “Infrastructure-as-a-Service.” But that’s true only to the extent that yes, it’s an OS that you are responsible for (which is not as good as letting Azure manage the platform. It means you have to consider configuration of the OS, updates, security patches, etc.), but it is a machine – or instances of a machine – that must be stateless. Your application can’t store any data locally (registry or disk) and expect that it will be there forever.. because the platform is dynamic. You’re pretty much guaranteed that at some time your machine may need to move to a new piece of hardware or for some reason may need to restart. The SLAs can only be met if your application has more than one instance, and the fabric controller may need to restart an instance somewhere else if it detects a problem. So.. it is NOT Infrastructure-as-a-Service. It’s still PaaS.
If you want to maintain an application’s state and have it persist (and do that among multiple instances if you want to scale out), you would use something like Azure Storage (Blobs or Tables) or a Windows Azure Drive (which is an implementation of a BLOB that looks like a drive to your application).
“So how do I get started?”
The VM Role is still in beta, but with an existing Windows Azure or trial Windows Azure account you can request admission to the beta through your Windows Azure Management Portal. On the “Home” tab, click “Beta Programs”:
Once you’re approved, you can follow the instructions and links found here: Overview of the VM Role in Windows Azure
I haven’t done this yet personally, but I’m going to give it a whirl sometime later this week.
“Is Microsoft going to come out with an Azure-based or some other IaaS cloud platform someday?”
I honestly don’t know. My gut feeling is that it would make sense to extend the VM Role someday to include support for persistent VMs. Maybe even charge a little bit more to make up for the loss of some flexibility on the platform side. But I have no knowledge whatsoever of any such plans, and am only speculating. Honestly, Microsoft is pretty firmly committed to the benefits of PaaS over IaaS. And I agree with them. …whether or not they sign my paycheck. And anyway, if you really just want IaaS, you have several “Private Cloud” / “Hyper-V Cloud” options; whether in your own datacenter or through a hosting provider.
Have you tried the VM Role? Do you have any questions / concerns / comments about it? Let’s discuss it in the comments.
Tomorrow in part 27 I’m going to outline what I think are some of the most exciting new improvements in the next version of System Center Virtual Machine Manager – SCVMM 2012.
Are you a developer?
Well, perhaps you’re not.. but someone reading this blog is. And they may have seen my articles about Windows Azure or the Windows Azure Appliance and may be wondering how exactly they’re going to get started building applications for it.
“Okay.. for the sake of argument, let’s say I am a developer. How do I get started in learning about and developing for Windows Azure? (..you’re going to tell me anyway…)"
I’m glad you asked. The easiest way is:
What’s really nice about the tools is that, to get started, you don’t need to buy anything. The Web Platform Installer installs everything you’ll need for developing, testing (locally) and then packaging your Windows Azure applications: Internet Information Services (IIS), SQL Server Express, .NET Framework and even the Visual Web Developer 2010 Express Edition.
Once you’ve got the tools installed, you’ll want some samples and some labs and free training resources. Fortunately for you, there are these great options:
And finally, to get plugged-in to the experts and be involved with the community, you should check out these community resources:
Are you developing for Windows Azure? Have you tried the tools? What did you think about the training kit? Share your thoughts in the comments.
Tomorrow in Part 25 I’m going to give you some ideas on how to manage Windows Azure.
** Just a little developer humor. Okay… it also proves that I was a developer a LONG TIME AGO.
** UPDATE: The 15%-off deal has expired. Watch the blog for updated offers at a later date. -KR **
“Hey Kevn.. what does the TechNet Subscription have to do with the Cloud?”
Where do you think it comes from? In all seriousness, though… the TechNet Subscription is an excellent way to get started with Microsoft solutions that are the foundation for your private cloud. Keep reading for all the details…
Whenever I present a live TechNet Event, I ask my audience to raise their hands if they are a TechNet subscriber. Usually about 1/2 to 2/3 of the audience raises their hand. Considering that this is typically a Microsoft-friendly audience, I'm a little shocked that there aren't more hands going up. The TechNet Subscription is such a great resource for IT Pros, for these reasons:
For all of those reasons (Heck, for any ONE of those reasons), a TechNet Plus subscription is worth the yearly investment.
"Cool, Kevin. Do you have any promotions to help me save some $$?"
Yes indeed. For new “TechNet Subscription Professional” subscriptions, from now through May 13, 2011, you save 15% off the price of the subscription. What was regularly $349.00 is now $296.65
"That's over $52 saved!”
"Is this worldwide, or U.S. only, or what?"
This is for U.S. residents only.
“Why new subscriptions only? Why not a discount renewals?”
Renewals are already automatically discounted, even more than you get with this code. Besides.. we’re honestly trying to promote TechNet Subscriptions to those who haven’t yet benefited from it. We’re pretty confident that if you try it, you’ll see enough value in it to renew your subscription.
Write down or copy this promotion code to your clipboard: TN3MNA04 (That's four-zero-four. Not the letter O.)
Then GOTO the TechNet Subscription Center (CLICK HERE), and use the code to get your savings.
“If you weren’t a Microsoft employee, Kevin, would you buy this for yourself?”
Without hesitation, YES. I use the software I download so much; for personal education as well as testing, $296.65 is a small price to pay for the value I receive. Absolutely.
A great summary of the subscription benefits: http://technet.microsoft.com/en-us/subscriptions/bb892759.aspx
I am finding, as I travel and talk to IT Pros around my territory, that there are still a lot of things Microsoft does that people just don’t know about yet.
Well.. did you know that you have 25GB of space that you can use for free?
Microsoft Windows Live SkyDrive is a free cloud (remember SaaS?) service that gives you 25GB of space for your photos and your documents. Which leads me to the next “secret” that people don’t know about…
Did you know that you not only can store and share your documents.. you can EDIT them there. Word, PowerPoint, Excel, and OneNote documents can be edited using free WebApps.
“WebApps? Like the ones that can run in SharePoint 2010?”
Exactly like that. Except that this is FREE. For NO $$$ you can create and edit documents.. or store and later update (or allow your friends to edit) documents from your own SkyDrive. All you need is a current browser..
“I don’t need Internet Explorer?”
Nope.. Newest versions of IE, Safari, FireFox, and Chrome work equally well.. and with your browser you can work with and edit your documents. It’s really slick. It’s easy. It’s very useful. And did I say “FREE”?
“Yes, you did.”
Ah. Well.. if you are also considering using this kind of web-based document editing in your own SharePoint installation as the Office WebApps, this is a really good way to try it out. Here are some more resources for you:
Have you tried either the Office WebApps or the capabilities of Windows Live SkyDrive? What do you like about them? What do you hate about them? What are you ambivalent about? Add a comment here.
And tomorrow I’m going to share with you a great deal on a subscription that will let you download everything you need to evaluate all of the latest tools and software from Microsoft.
Do you manage an Exchange organization? What about a company SharePoint?
“Yeah.. but we’re a couple versions back.”
You’re in good company. I hear that a lot. There are some amazing capabilities in the latest versions - Exchange 2010 and SharePoint 2010, but as usual, moving to the next version is not something we always have the time/resources/money to do as soon as we’d like. But still there is this amazingly rich set of productivity experiences that we could get if we have those, along with Lync 2010 (new version of what was Office Communications Server (OCS)).
We want Unified Communications, Business Intelligence, powerful content management, collaboration, search… and we want it on our PCs, Macs, pads, and smart phones.
“Yeah, Kevin. I want all of that. But can I have all of that without having to build it all in-house?”
Yes, you can. Or at least you will be able to have that all very soon. Office 365 is coming soon. Currently in beta, Office 365 is the suite of Microsoft Products, hosted in the cloud, that give you all of that rich productivity that you want. For a monthly subscription cost per-user, you and your companies will potentially have all of those tools at your disposal. And you don’t have to install servers or upgrade applications to make that happen.
“Do I have to throw out what I have? I don’t want to have a whole new set of credentials that my users have to use to log-in to some online portal. I like my Active Directory.”
You have a lot of options. You can keep your directory, and Office 365 lets you (and helps you) federate the authentication – So your users will have a single sign-on experience.. being authenticated to the online services essentially via your existing directory.
“What about Exchange? Do I have to migrate all of my mailboxes to the cloud?”
Again, you’ll have a lot of flexibility there. You can essentially extend your Exchange organization (if you’re on Exchange 2010) into the cloud! Some mailboxes in-house, and others in the cloud; and your users won’t know or care where their mailbox actually resides. In fact, you might say “I want mailboxes in my datacenter, but I’d like to use Exchange 2010’s new archiving functionality. So I’ll leave the mailboxes here, but their archive mailbox will be in the cloud.”
These are only a couple of examples. Rich, persistent presence information… multi-person audio/video/web conferencing… web applications (Office WebApps) for working with documents from a browser… these are all benefits of the newest versions of our Office products, and you can have it all as a Software-as-a-Service purchase.
Oh.. and before I forget… your users can even have the full Office 2010 Professional Plus suite on their PCs as part of the subscription, too. You’ll give them a link to your new company portal, and we walk them through a simple download, install, and configuration that sets them up completely to work with your new cloud-based productivity applications.
How cool is that?
Here are some relevant links for you if you’d like to learn more:
Office 365 – http://office365.microsoft.com
Sign-up for the beta - http://www.microsoft.com/en-us/office365/which-beta.aspx
Are you considering Office 365? Are you already a BPOS customer and looking to move to Office 365 when it’s available? Share your thoughts in the comments.
Tomorrow in part 23 I’m going to introduce you to some future possibilities… like maybe buying your own PaaS cloud-in-a-box.