Windows on the Cloud: Windows Azure Basics from Microsoft’s Yousef Khalidi

Xconomy’s Cloud3 Forum gets underway this morning at Microsoft’s New England R&D Center in Cambridge, MA, so I thought it would be a great time to write up my recent Q&A with Yousef Khalidi, a distinguished engineer in Microsoft’s Windows Azure team in Redmond, WA. Azure is Microsoft’s public cloud platform. Announced as a free “technical preview” for developers in October 2008, it’s set to evolve into a pay-as-you-go commercial service next February.

Simply put, Windows Azure is a computing environment with all of the ingredients—such as an SQL database server, Microsoft’s .NET Framework, and the Windows operating system itself—that customers need to run their Windows applications in the cloud (meaning, in this case, Microsoft’s data centers). As part of the rollout, Microsoft has provided tools for developers that make it easy to package up Windows applications originally written for on-premises PCs or servers and send them up to Azure, where companies can take advantage of the automated, on-demand, pay-as-you-go nature of cloud computing to (in theory, at least) reduce their own computing costs.

Khalidi’s colleague Hasan Alkhatib, a senior architect in the Windows Azure team, will be on hand at Cloud3 to describe all of this in more detail in a keynote speech today. But for everyone else, here’s a transcript of my conversation with Khalidi, which took place this Tuesday.

Xconomy: Can you start out talking about Windows Azure at a high level—what it’s designed to do, who’s using it so far, and how it fits into Microsoft’s larger cloud computing strategy?

Yousef Khalidi, MicrosoftYousef Khalidi: You may be familiar with Software as a Service strategy for the company, which is that virtually everything in the software stack that you can deploy on premises, you can also buy and use as a service. The foundational piece for the services part is Windows Azure. Think about it as an operating system for the cloud—a basic platform over which we can run other services and applications, one that can be used by developers and IT professionals and so forth.

Back at PDC in October 2008 [Microsoft’s annual Professional Developers Conference], we announced the Windows Azure platform, and for the last year we have been in a technical preview. It’s been free for that year. We have been gathering feedback and adding features literally every week for the last year or so. In November 2009 at PDC, we announced the transition from the technical preview to our commercial release. For the remainder of this year, the technical preview will continue, and we now have all of the features available, so that developers can experiment with the latest features. Starting in January, they will need to switch from the technical preview mode to submitting developer information. They can use it free for another month, during which they’ll get a bill showing how much their cost would have been. And starting in February, we are charging money. The basic mode is pay-as-you-go, for things like CPU time, storage, and data transfer in and out. By the time of commercial release, we are going to be in multiple data centers in North America, Western Europe, and Asia. Of course, jobs that are submitted in the U.S. will run in data centers in the U.S., and so forth.

The platform is very much aimed at making it very easy for developers to bring up their favorite programming tools—it could be Visual Studio, it could be Eclipse—and to write in their favorite language, whether it’s .NET, C#, Java, PHP. You can do your testing and emulation on a desktop, and when you’re satisfied, with the click of a button, it goes to the Web and you deploy it. As a developer you don’t have to worry about managing SQL or bringing up a virtual machine with SQL and having to do all the management stuff. You just declare what you need and … Next Page »

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Wade Roush is a freelance science and technology journalist and the producer and host of the podcast Soonish. Follow @soonishpodcast

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