By Dan Scarfe, CEO of Dot Net Solutions

I remember the day clearly. It was February 25th 2009 and I was sitting in the Platform Adoption centre in Redmond at a Software Design Review for Windows Azure. I recall us having a debate about IaaS and PaaS. Coming from a development background myself, a number of us argued passionately and religiously that PaaS was the true definition of Cloud Computing. Software virtualisation was the key, not hardware. Oh how wrong we all were.

I still genuinely believe PaaS is a better software design pattern and I’d choose it 99 times out of 100 for new software projects. What not all of us in that room recognised that day was just how difficult it is to move legacy software in to a PaaS environment, especially off-the-shelf solutions, and that these solutions typically comprise 90%+ of an enterprise IT estate. Other vendors in the marketplace offering IaaS did a great job of delivering simple to consume VMs that worked the way traditional on-premises servers did. Just in the Cloud.

So today, with Microsoft, we find ourselves in an unbelievably exciting place. Windows Azure IaaS is GA. Not generally awesome, which it already was, but generally available. The icing on the cake is that Virtual Networking, which underpins IaaS, has also gone live. Both of these are in additional to Windows Azure Active Directory, which went live last week.

Microsoft is now unique in the marketplace offering a true hybrid IaaS / PaaS environment. Other providers have both parts, but none have a unified platform with unified networking and unified identity. Windows Azure Virtual Networking also offers compelling hybrid scenarios where Windows Azure can become part of one single, unified IT infrastructure.

This notion of multi-datacentre fabrics is what underpins the Cloud OS, Microsoft’s vision for enterprise IT. For the very first time, we now have an ability to run a true hybrid estate with a common identity model (Active Directory), virtualisation (Hyper-V), management (System Center) and development tools (.NET/Java/PHP et al). The Cloud OS delivers on-premises private Clouds, public and private Clouds from service providers and a global public Cloud using Azure.

Customers can now choose to deploy individual pieces of software to an appropriate Cloud on a case by case basis, from a unified platform using unified tools. Not long ago it would have been the stuff of dreams. Today those dreams became reality.

At Dot Net Solutions IaaS is something we’re really excited about. The scenarios it now unlocks for us are limitless. In almost all cases we are delivering a hybrid solution with Windows Azure. That just got a whole heap easier. The new virtual networking components are a great complement, allowing Azure to become a seamless extension of a customer’s IT infrastructure. Many large enterprises are now looking to Azure to provide controlled access, in line with company security models, to the public Cloud. Along with reducing cost and providing better service, it helps manage the dangers of credit-card-dependent IT systems showing up in production.

This massive vision is not only relevant to large enterprises, everybody can benefit. The small business or entrepreneur can create a large and complex infrastructure that would normally be completely out of reach because of the cost of capital investment. IaaS services level the playing field such that it is no longer the businesses with the biggest budgets that are most successful, but the businesses with the best ideas. IaaS services and the advent of pop-up labs have the potential to change the way everybody from end-customers, to small one-man bands, to small and medium sized businesses, government departments and large multi-national companies do business.

With our ADFS Online service we have made extensive use of Windows Azure IaaS, Virtual Networking and Windows Azure Active Directory. We’ve soak tested it, automated it within an inch of its life and really pushed the boundaries. It’s great to see how well it performs, how reliable it is, and easy it is to use.

If you haven’t had a chance to play with Azure, please do. If you have any questions about what Azure means for your business, get in touch.

Dan Scarfe

CEO, Dot Net Solutions

@dotnetsolutions