First look at Windows Azure

Posted by:admin Posted on:Jun 26,2011

Microsoft’s vision of a Windows-only cloud is ambitious, but too many features are currently still in beta

Glaringly absent is the Virtual Machine Role. VM Roles are the commodity-version of Azure Windows Server licenses. We’ve seen them, but because they aren’t available yet, extreme constraints are imposed on the current Azure platform.
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Lack of a fully-loadable virtual machine capability means that Azure doesn’t fit a number of use cases that have become associated with IaaS cloud services. For example, you can’t upload your own VM — even if it’s religiously bound by all Windows 2003/8 Server R2 constraints — and run it in Azure.

As a result, you can’t currently use VM commodity-type services and use-cases found through Amazon EC2, Rackspace, Bluelock, your own internal cloud and other provisioning processes — most of which will digest your Windows 2003/8 R2 Server Edition applications and run them with glee.

Traditional licensing models currently imposed by Microsoft today mean that there is no license portability for the Windows server instances in Azure; they must be Azure-specific instances and licensed in that way. If you already have Windows 2008 instances, they’re not portable into the Azure cloud.

Also, you can’t take one of your current on-premises versions of Windows Server 2008, SQL Server, or .Net into Azure as a Virtual Hard Disk/VHD-booted instance today. When the VM Role becomes available, Microsoft proposes hypervisor support for Windows 2003+ license use on Windows Azure, where license transfer via VM use in the IaaS model will likely be possible.

Microsoft has developed the Azure infrastructure fabric to be emulated and replicated by future managed services providers (MSP) — likely at the point when both PaaS and IaaS become available. Microsoft’s half-dozen data centers will be the core development platform for Azure, but Windows Azure will be rented in a franchise-like fashion in the future, according to Microsoft product marketing spokespeople, much in the way that VMware has service providers renting vCenter.

The final portions of Azure are storage and content distribution (CDN). Windows Azure allowed us to store in the familiar folder (Drive C:-style) or via an API which supports BLOBs (Binary Large Objects), tables and queues. Stored data doesn’t even have to be in the same data center or geography, although we found it’s a great way to run up data transport costs when we did it accidentally.
Test results

We asked for access to the Azure Business Edition and SQL Server Business Edition. Whatever is done inside of the Azure Cloud is controlled by Microsoft’s AppFabric, which will place an instance of a predetermined/pre-selected size in one of its data centers — which are defined by region and specific data centers.

We could choose one of five instance types, ranging in cost from a nickel an hour to nearly a dollar an hour based on platform strength. Storage costs $0.15/GB/month plus a penny per 10,000 storage transactions.

Systems mirroring is currently not available within Azure, unlike Amazon Web Services (which recently and famously crashed — despite availability constructs). Availability can be somewhat accomplished by setting the number of instances created in an application to two or more. VMware-based IaaS services often offer mirroring or other availability services that don’t currently exist except as future clusters inside of Azure. You’ll also be charged for traffic between data centers, even within regions, we found, thus making long-distance clustering and/or mirroring for safety, quite expensive.


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