by Peter Galli on October 27, 2008 05:50pm


It's all about developers, all the time - well, at least for the next week here in Los Angeles at Microsoft's Professional Developer Conference.

The first day of the show started off with an opening keynote by Chief Software Architect Ray Ozzie, who welcomed the more than six thousand attendees, thanking them for their commitment to the company and for all their hard work, saying that "without you, there would be no Microsoft."

He also pointed out that, although there had never been more platform choices for developers than are available today, Microsoft's platforms remained the most compelling for a number of reasons.

These included the fact that the company always builds its own key applications to ensure that its platform works well, end-to-end, for its customers; that, because of the scope of Microsoft's reach, its key platforms have a good chance of reaching critical mass, providing a stable foundation for developers; and that the company never loses sight of the fact that its partners have to be successful in order for it to thrive and flourish.

There is also new value to be had for users, developers and businesses, through the combination of the best of software with the best services, Ozzie said, before announcing the Azure Services Platform, which he described as a new service in the cloud and a new Windows offering at the Web-tier level. "Think about this as Windows in the cloud."

In a white paper, which can be downloaded here,  titled "Introducing the Azure Services Platform," author Dave Chappell notes that in the Community Technology Preview version of Windows Azure, which was made available to PDC attendees today, developers can create .NET-based software such as ASP.NET applications and Windows Communication Foundation (WCF) services.

To do this, they can use C# and other .NET languages, along with traditional development tools such as Visual Studio 2008. And while many developers are likely to use this initial version of Windows Azure to create Web applications, the platform also supports background processes that run independently - it's not solely a Web platform, Chappell says in the paper.

Both Windows Azure applications and on-premises applications can access the Windows Azure storage service, and both do it in the same way: using a RESTful approach. The underlying data store is not Microsoft SQL Server, however. In fact, Windows Azure storage isn't a relational system, and its query language isn't SQL. Because it's primarily designed to support applications built on Windows Azure, it provides simpler, more scalable kinds of storage. Accordingly, it allows storing binary large objects (blobs), provides queues for communication between components of Windows Azure applications, and even offers a form of tables with a straightforward query language, Chappell says.

Azure will compete with Amazon's Elastic Compute Cloud (EC2) as a scalable hosting environment on which developers can build and host their applications. The systems currently being built for cloud-based computing are also setting the stage for the next 50 years, and developers should expect to see more Microsoft applications coming to Windows Azure as the system scales out.

So, for now, the new platform has Windows Azure at the center, with Live Services, .Net Services, SQL Services, SharePoint Services and Dynamics CRM Services above it.

And, as Sam Ramji said in his blog post, the Azure platform's goal is to support all developers and their choice of IDE, language and technology.  Microsoft is providing programmable components that can be consumed by other applications, and Microsoft is funding and sponsoring open source software development kits to enable Java and Ruby developers to take advantage of Azure. This is significant as this is the first time the company is delivering cross-platform software development kits at the same time as Microsoft Developer Network software development kits.

Microsoft is also funding these open source projects, under the BSD licensing model, in collaboration with Thoughtworks Inc. and Schakra Inc., and they will be run on open source portals RubyForge   and SourceForge.

Amitabh Srivastaba, the Corporate Vice President of Cloud Infrastructure Services, told attendees that Windows Azure was a scalable hosting environment for developers to deploy their applications to the cloud, and would use multiple layers of security, including an optimized hypervisor and hypervisor enforced isolation.

Windows Azure also separates the applications from the underlying operating system so that both are managed separately. In fact, at the heart of Windows Azure, is a fabric controller, which manages the lifecycle of a service, from deployment to upgrade and configuration changes. The fabric controller views the entire datacenter as fabric or shared hardware resources that can be managed and shared with all the services that run there.

So, in short, the fabric controller maintains the health of the service. "When you want to change your service, you specify the desired M state, and the fabric controller very carefully makes the necessary changes. The fabric controller manages services, not just servers.This is a crucial point because this allows us to automate the lifecycles of a service," Srivastaba said.

Also, Windows Azure, leveraging the vast computing power available in Microsoft's datacenters across the world, will help reduce upfront capital costs, as well as management and operational costs, Bob Muglia, the senior Vice President for Server and Tools, told attendees, before likening the significance of the launch of Azure to that of Windows NT in 1992.

The Azure software is also at an early stage and will probably change as a result of direct feedback from developers, and Microsoft will be unlocking more and more of the platform's underlying services to developers over time.

When it is released commercially, the Windows Azure business model will treat costs primarily as a function of two key factors: application resource consumption and the specific service level provided.

Ozzie will be back on the keynote stage Tuesday to talk about Windows 7, developing for Windows and the Web, and the services built to bridge the Web, the PC, and the phone, and a world of devices. He will be joined by Steven Sinofsky, the Senior Vice President for the Windows and Windows Live Engineering Group; Scott Guthrie, the Corporate Vice President of the .NET Developer Division; and David Treadwell, the Corporate Vice President for Live Platform Services.