Fundamentals of the Windows Azure Platform

Fundamentals of the Windows Azure Platform

The Windows Azure Platform is Microsoft’s cloud computing platform for both infrastructure-as-a-service (IaaS) and platform-as-a-service (PaaS). IaaS enables companies to run applications and store data on the cloud provider’s infrastructure. PaaS enables companies to develop and run their own cloud-based applications in .NET or Open Source on the provider’s infrastructure. While administration and management are required for IaaS, they are not for PaaS; i.e., patching, updating, etc. are performed by the cloud provider.

While Microsoft is increasing its IaaS offering, the Windows Azure Platform’s core focus is applications. The Windows Azure Platform helps to manage the entire lifecycle of applications – from designing, developing and testing to deploying, monitoring and scaling. The Windows Azure Platform also helps to analyze and understand applications that have been developed in order to build and deploy better versions in the future without downtime. The Windows Azure Platform consists of three core services. They include: Windows Azure, SQL Database and AppFabric.

Windows Azure is the operating system for the Windows Azure Platform. Its three main components include: 1) Compute. Companies can scale their infrastructure needs to support a large number of users and handle heavy workloads. 2) Storage. Companies can use blobs to store unstructured binary data (e.g., pictures); queues to store a large number of messages (e.g., backlog of work to process asynchronously) and tables to store and quickly access typed data (e.g., customer profiles). 3) Fabric. Compute and storages resources provisioned for applications on Azure.

SQL Database (formerly called SQL Azure) is the relational database for the Windows Azure Platform. Multiple devices, including desktops, laptops, smartphones and tablets, can access and use data from the SQL Database. On-premise applications can also leverage the service. The key benefits of using the SQL Database in the cloud include: automatic failover, automatic replication between physical servers, backup and recovery, disaster recovery, geographic distribution, high-availability, load balancing, etc. – all part of the service.

AppFabric provides secure connections and messaging between applications running on-premises and the cloud. The cloud-based infrastructure services provided by AppFabric include: Access Control and Service Bus. Access Control provides developers with an easy way to authenticate users who need to access Internet applications and services without having to factor complex authentication logic into code. Service Bus provides developers cloud to on-premises application integration without the development of complex messaging or security infrastructure.

The Windows Azure Platform is hosted in highly secure, geographically-redundant Microsoft datacenters across the world. Geographies include the United States, Europe and Asia. All data and information resides within the Microsoft datacenter networks. Because cloud computing involves a transformation in how IT services are delivered to companies and users, manageability, performance, reliability and service are common areas of concern for both business and technology leaders. The Windows Azure Platform effectively addresses these issues.

Manageability. When you build cloud-based applications on the Windows Azure Platform, Microsoft manages the administrative tasks for you, such as applying patches, maintaining the operating system and managing upgrades to the  application environment. This makes the application easier to maintain. Your company’s support team can also leverage the debugging, logging, managing and monitoring capabilities provided in Windows Azure APIs to ensure better visibility into current and new cloud-based applications.

Performance. Business and markets move at lightning speed. Companies require faster, more consistent access to applications, data and storage. The Windows Azure Platform provides developers with the on-demand hardware and infrastructure necessary to meet business requirements. The Windows Azure Platform’s pay per use model enables companies to meet peak performance periods without having to over invest. During peak performance periods, built-in load balancing prevents system overload and ensures consistent, reliable application availability.

Reliability. Reliability is the core  of the Windows Azure Platform. All data and information stored in blogs, queues and tables are replicated at least three times. In addition, the Windows Azure Platform stores a backup copy of all data and information in a different Microsoft datacenter in the same part of the world. These mirrored solutions ensure fault tolerance. Fear of losing data and information during critical events or disasters is no longer necessary. The Windows Azure Platform provides resiliency and sustainability for cloud-based applications.

Service Level Agreement (SLA). The Windows Azure Platform has separate SLAs for each of its three core services. For example, the SLA for compute guarantees availability of 99.95%. Its 99.95% availability means correctly formatted requests will be successfully processed. The SQL Database SLA also guarantees complete connectivity between the database and the Microsoft Internet Gateway for 99.9% of the time. As part of each SLA, processes that do not run are detected within two minutes and followed by the initiation of a corrective action.

The Windows Azure Platform is ideal for companies to dynamically align their hardware and infrastructure needs to ever changing business requirements without having the make large up-front capital expenditures. In fact, developers only need a computer and Internet connection to start building and deploying applications. A consistent programming model between cloud and on-premises also allows developers to leverage existing skills and be more productive. Developers can work on innovation and value instead of worrying about infrastructure and run time environments.

All contents copyright © 2012, Josh Lowry. All rights reserved.


One Response to Fundamentals of the Windows Azure Platform

  1. Casey Johnston says:

    Wow. That is so elegant and logical and clearly explained. Brilliantly goes through what could be a complex subject and makes it simple.


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