Windows Azure: Windows Azure enhanced

Several updates to Windows Azure can help you move your organization’s data and applications to the cloud.

Bob Kelly

We are in a new era of the hybrid cloud. The contemporary definition of the hybrid cloud brings together the best of on-premises and cloud computing. There are many elements to this equation.

Virtual machines (VMs), virtual networks and Web services are now available as preview services for Windows Azure. SQL Reporting is available, there’s a locally redundant storage option and several enhancements to existing Windows Azure services are now live. These updates help you build and bring your applications to the cloud in whichever manner is most appropriate for your needs.

There are also a number of pricing and metering updates. These changes include graduated pricing for networks, content delivery networks (CDNs) and storage; preview pricing for Windows Server and non-Windows VMs; and a 90 percent reduction in storage and CDN transaction prices.

Enhancements to existing services

Here’s a closer look at the details of some of the service enhancements:

  • SQL Reporting: This is now available with a fully backed service-level agreement (SLA). SQL Reporting lets you publish reports to the cloud or embed reports directly within on-premises applications you can access via browser, mobile device or PC.
  • Caching: “Caching Preview” offers a new tenancy model, new features and performance improvements. The Preview lets you deploy caching to Web roles and co-locate it with other application components. You can also create a dedicated cache tier for one or more applications from multiple worker roles, providing almost unlimited cache size and scale. The Preview now has other new features such as notifications, tags, regions and high availability to ensure the resiliency of cached data.  
  • Storage: As an additional choice (alongside the Geo-Redundant Storage option), Locally Redundant Storage is now available if you don’t require geo-replication and you’re looking to reduce storage costs. Other storage updates include Blob Leases and Cross Storage Account Copy for blob storage, and Shared Access Signature (SAS) for Tables and Queues (with continued availability for blob storage).
  • Compliance: The Statement on Standards for Attestation Engagements (SSAE) No. 16 (SOC 1 Type 2) audit report is now available for Windows Azure core services. For more information on this, please visit the Windows Azure Trust Center.

New services

Using Windows Azure VMs gives you application mobility, letting you move your virtual hard disks (VHDs) back and forth between on-premises and the cloud. You can also migrate existing workloads such as Microsoft SQL Server or Microsoft SharePoint to the cloud, bring your own customized Windows Server or Linux images, or select an OS image from a gallery.

Compatible OSes and images available in the online gallery include:

  • Windows Server 2008 R2
  • Windows Server 2008 R2 with SQL Server 2012, Evaluation Version
  • Windows Server 2012 RC
  • openSUSE 12.1
  • CentOS 6.2
  • Ubuntu 12.04
  • SuSE Linux Enterprise Server 11 SP2

You can access VMs in the new Windows Azure Management Preview Portal or through Windows PowerShell, using the new Windows Azure SDK (June 2012). There are also command-line tools available for Mac or Linux development.

The Windows Azure Virtual Network service lets you create a private environment called a virtual network (VNET) in Windows Azure. You can also connect this to your on-premises network using a Virtual Private Network (VPN) gateway. Within the VNET you create, you have control over the network topology. For example, you can configure IP address ranges for the VMs or even specify your own DNS. For creating a secure connection with your corporate VPN gateway, Windows Azure uses the industry-standard IPSec protocol.

With the Windows Azure Virtual Network service, you can extend your on-premises datacenter by building “virtual” extensions within the public cloud. You can also provide a networking on-ramp for migrating existing apps and services (including legacy apps) to Windows Azure. You can also run “hybrid” apps that span the cloud and on-premises networks.

You can use Windows Azure to build Web sites and applications with this highly elastic solution that lets you easily deploy with a few clicks. You can build applications in .NET, Node.js or PHP, and connect with Windows Azure SQL Database (formerly known as SQL Azure) or MySQL (offered as a service on Windows Azure by ClearDB).

Deploy those apps using built-in integration with Git and Team Foundation Service, along with FTP. Integration with Microsoft WebMatrix also lets you easily pull down your Web sites locally to make changes and then easily deploy back to Windows Azure. You can deploy popular open source Web apps such as WordPress, Joomla!, DotNetNuke, Umbraco and Drupal to the cloud.

Improved tooling and language support

The preview of the Windows Azure Management Portal features rich scenario-based UIs, real-time monitoring charts, diagnostics data, notifications and alerts to manage the health of your application. This helps with deploying, configuring, monitoring and troubleshooting applications. The Preview Portal supports the following services: Cloud Services, VMs (Preview), Web Sites (Preview), VNET (Preview), SQL Database and Storage.

The Windows Azure SDK, released in June 2012, includes new developer capabilities for writing code against the latest service improvements with updated support for Java, PHP and .NET, and the addition of Python as a supported language on Windows Azure. The SDK now provides 100 percent command-line support for both Windows and OS X.

Here’s a list of some of the other tool and language support enhancements:

  • Windows Azure SDK for .NET
  • Added support for IIS Express in the Emulator
  • Added support for LocalDB in the Emulator
  • Added Dedicated Caching (Preview) functionality
  • Added Visual Studio support for Dedicated Caching (Preview) roles
  • Updated client libraries for Storage, Service Bus and Shared Caching
  • Added Visual Studio support for Service Bus
  • Windows Azure SDK for Java
  • Added service wrapper client libraries for Tables (Storage)
  • Windows Azure SDK for Node.js
  • Added Service Runtime client libraries
  • Windows Azure SDK for PHP
  • Added service wrapper client libraries for Storage (Tables, Queues and Blobs), Service Bus and Service Runtime services
  • Added packaging and tooling support for Windows PowerShell cmdlets
  • Windows Azure SDK for Python
  • Windows PowerShell cmdlets and Client Libraries (Windows, Linux and Mac)
  • Support for Django, the most popular Python Web framework
  • Support for Windows Azure and Django in Python Tools for Visual Studio, or PTVS (
  • Support for IPython (from Windows, Linux and Mac clients) to VMs (Linux or Windows)

Pricing updates

For the preview period, the Windows Server and Linux VM cost per hour is $0.013 for Extra Small, $0.08 for Small, $0.16 for Medium, $0.32 for Large and $0.64 for Extra Large. The SQL Server 2012 Evaluation edition is included at no additional charge. At general availability, images with SQL Server 2012 Web and Standard Editions will be available for an additional fee.

If you’re using graduated pricing for Storage, CDN and Network Egress, you’ll automatically see those features’ costs go down as their usage volume increases. There’s no need to do anything special. If you’re a Pay-As-You-Go customer, you’ll receive this benefit automatically.

The new Locally Redundant Storage option offers up to a 33 percent discount over the Geo-Redundant Storage option with the same graduated pricing tiers. Storage and CDN transaction costs have been reduced by 90 percent (from $0.01 for 10,000 transactions to $0.01 for 100,000 transactions).

Expanded availability

Windows Azure will be available in 48 new countries, including Russia, South Korea, Taiwan, Turkey, Egypt, South Africa and Ukraine. This means Windows Azure is one of the most widely available cloud platforms, with offerings in 89 countries and in 19 local currencies. These updates give you greater flexibility for spanning on-premises and cloud servers, deliver powerful enhancements for cloud applications, and help to make Windows Azure an open platform.

Bob Kelly

Bob Kelly is the corporate vice president of Windows Azure Marketing for Microsoft.