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April 3, 2014

Build day 2: It’s all about Azure


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Day two of the Microsoft Build conference started with a keynote that was all about Azure and how Microsoft is reaching out with their online services to platforms beyond Windows. Developer favorite Scott Guthrie took the stage this morning in his usual red polo shirt to provide an overview of the new features in Azure including a much improved new management experience as well as an integration of the development operations process with the management and deployment of projects in the cloud. Corporate Vice President Steve Guggenheimer then took over with a somewhat disjointed overview of the many ways the Azure technologies are being used by partners.

There were as many as 44 different announcements of either new Azure features or features previously in beta being made generally available. The discussion of Azure started with a brief overview of the progress made in making Azure available worldwide through 16 different regions including being the only provider with data centers in China. There was a video that described how more than 100,000 Azure-based servers were used for the launch of the popular Titanfall game, followed by a visit from an NBC exec to highlight how Azure services were used to stream the recent Winter Olympics. Then the rollout of new functionality began.

IaaS, PaaS and Roslyn

Virtual machines hosted in Azure can now be configured and deployed directly in Visual Studio, including the ability to easily turn on remote debugging to allow you to attach the local debugger to processes running on the virtual machines.  Another nice feature is the ability to use both Puppet and Chef  services to automate configuration of virtual environments as well as a standard PupperMaster server image. Other virtual networking improvements are also available including static virtual IP addresses.

There were several new features announced supporting the hosting of web sites including support for Java based sites, free inclusion of SSL certificates for secured sites, and availability of Traffic Manager to handle routing for scaling and failover, and Staging server features that allow for a single click swap for production deployment. While not specific to Azure, they also took the opportunity to show off a great new feature for web development with Visual Studio called Browser Link that allows a developer to change content in the browser and have that change immediately reflected in the source code. They also showed the inclusion of JSHint to provide static code analysis of JavaScript code directly in Visual Studio. Traffic Manager and autoscale features are now generally available as of today.

In the mobile department, several announcements were made about new features, including those added to Notification Hub. It can push notifications to any platform mobile device including Kindle, and has Office 365 integration with Active Directory support, as well as offline data synchronization.

As for SQL Server, the maximum database instance size has been increased to 500GB, and all SQL Server instances now include a 99.95 percent uptime SLA. Another really useful feature for SQL Server is self-service restore with daily automatic backups, which are held for a rolling 31 day period. Also announced were the active geographic replication of databases feature which enable disaster recovery, and the new HD Insight features including Hadoop 2.2 and .NET 4.5 defaults.

One of the most enthusiastically received announcements came when Andera Hejlsberg took the stage to officially make Roslyn, the .NET compiler platform, open source. He then showed how easy it is to extend the C# language by showing how different characters can be used to enclose string literals. Roslyn features will also bring new tools to Visual Studio such as inline previews of refactoring. As part of making Roslyn open source, Microsoft announced a new program called the .NET Foundation which will act as an umbrella for all of Microsoft’s open source offerings for developers.

New Azure portal

Perhaps one of the most impressive announcements today was the new management portal for Azure services. In the demo for this portal, Microsoft showed how a project could be managed from the development lifecycle via TFS Online service, from staging and deployment, to production monitoring all from the same portal. When a bug was found in production, changes could be made directly which would kick off a new build, deploy to staging and then with the click of the swap button be deployed to production. Also shown was a customizable new dashboard page, better billable usage information, and new pricing tiers views that show projected costs based on your current usage. Of course the usual server monitoring and management features are also seamlessly integrated including analytics from the Application Insights feature of Azure.

Also shown was a new preview feature called Resource Manager. With Resource Manager you can use a JSON configuration file to deploy multiple servers including custom configurations directly from PowerShell.

The last part of the keynote was spent in a seemingly random set of partner product demos showing all of the various ways the Azure services are being used for Windows, web and mobile device apps. One interesting new product from Microsoft that was shown is AppStudio. Using AppStudio you can take a web site application and execute it as a mobile or WinRT app with the ability to pull content from the server and store it offline. This product not only works with Windows, but with non-Windows clients such as iOS and Android, thanks to the help of Xamarin’s products.

Microsoft’s presentations today covered a breadth of topics, and it really shows how they are moving toward providing a comprehensive set of fully-integrated backend services with Azure.

PaaS (Platform as a Service)

About the Author

is a Chief Architect specializing in large scale distributed system development and enterprise software processes. Paul has more than twenty years of development experience including being a former Microsoft MVP, a speaker at technical conferences such as Microsoft Tech-Ed and VSLive, and a published author. Prior to working on the Windows platform, he built software using a vast array of technologies including Java, Unix, C, and even OS/2.