October 28, 2010, 6:47 PM — Microsoft just added capabilities to its Azure cloud computing service that makes the difference between various brands and flavors of cloud computing -- already foggy in the minds of even IT people already testing them -- a little more uncertain.
The addition is the ability for customers to launch a virtual server running an explicit instance of Windows Server 2008 R2 developers can configure any way they like.
It seems like a small change from the generic Windows-Serverlike app execution environment Azure has offered until now, but it's actually a pretty big difference.
While Azure was a Windows environment, it didn't allow developers to launch their own VMs, independent of those that are part of the service itself, or configure them to the point that they could potentially run the same application image on both a VM in their own data center and on Azure without rewriting or recompiling it first.
Until now Azure's platform-as-a-service (PAAS)offering provided and environment in which applications developed in VisualStudio, or using the .NET framework could run as if they were on Windows servers. Customers could decide how many 'nodes' -- the equivalent of an x86-based server -- the application should run on, and increase or decrease memory, computing power and other resources the app would use.
Though nodes are virtual machines themselves, users had only limited control over them or the resources they used. That's a good thing, according to Bernard Golden,CEO of consultancy Hyperstratus and a CIO.com blogger.
By abstracting the resource- and infrastructure management so developers can focus on the application and not worry about the infrastructure required to deploy it, Microsoft made Azure a lot easier to use and more approachable for .NET and VisualStudio developers, Golden says.