Making sense of Microsoft's Azure

What app developers and enterprises need to know before signing up for Microsoft's cloud platform

What Microsoft is trying to do is manage the entire cloud lifecycle development, similar to how it already manages local app development with Visual Studio and .Net tools. Yes, Amazon.com will let you build whatever virtual machine you wish in your little piece of cloud real estate, but Microsoft will try to work out the provisioning and set up the various services ahead of time.

Oh,and how does the cloud frontier play with the enterprise?

The real trouble with all of this cloud computing is how any cloud-based app is going to play with your existing enterprise data structures that aren't in nice SQL databases; they may even be scattered around the landscape in a bunch of spreadsheets or text files. SnapLogic (and Microsoft's own Popfly) has tools to mix and mash up the data, but figuring out the provenance of your data is also not taught in traditional computer science classes and is largely unheard of around most IT shops, too. Do you need a DBA for your cloud assets? It is 10 p.m.: Do you know what your widgets are doing with your data?

Next, pricing isn't set, although for the time being, Azure is free for all. If you look at what Amazon.com charges for the kind of real estate that Microsoft is offering (2,000 VM machine hours, 50GB of storage, and 600Gbps per month of bandwidth), that works out to about US$400 a month. Think about that for a moment: US$400 a month can buy you a pretty high-end dedicated Linux or Windows server from any number of hosting providers, then you don't have to worry about bandwidth and other charges. And there are many others that can sell you a VM in their datacenter for a lot less.

However, Amazon.com's S3 storage repository is amazingly cheap, and it's getting cheaper as of this week; in fact, Amazon.com is now charging less per gigabyte the more you store with it. Microsoft should set tiered, fixed monthly pricing and make the storage component free. I am thinking a basic account should be free, and US$100 a month would be just about right for the next level. The pricing of Microsoft's Office Live Small Business hosting services is an indication of what to expect.

Finally, take a moment to do a browser inventory as best you can. Writing cloud-based apps is going to be hard enough without having to account for variations in how your browsers support Java and other APIs, too. You'll find that you are supporting way too many different versions from different vendors, and getting people to switch just because the IT sheriff says so is probably impossible.

If you are going to enter the brave new world of cloud computing, this is yet another indication of the beginnings of where the Wild West will begin for you.

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David Strom

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