Microsoft Updates Windows Azure with Push Notifications, SQL Server AlwaysOn Support

Microsoft's Bing News app can use Notification Hubs for instant news updates.

Microsoft has unloaded a series of major updates to its Windows Azure service, including notification hubs, SQL Server AlwaysOn support and disaster recovery.

Push to iOS, Android + Windows

Windows Azure Notification Hubs allow personalized messages to be sent out to a variety of devices all at once using only one API call. Messages can be sent to iOS, Android, Windows Store or Windows Phone 8 devices via a built in template that allows the client to choose the shape, format and locale of the notification.

Additionally, clients will be able to specify one or more tags for a set of topics like geo location, stock symbol or sports team, for example. A recent update to the Bing News app (pictured above) was to integrate Notification Hubs, and this allows the app to massively scale messages that are topic based, across multiple platforms, Scott Guthrie, a Microsoft VP in the developer division, wrote in a recent blog post.

Notification Hubs includes a free tier of usage that offers a way to send 100,000 operations per month to 500 registered devices. This no cost feature is intended to nudge people into using the tool at least on a trial basis, Guthrie noted. It includes the templating, dashboard, device SDKs and tracking of messages and usage.

SQL Server AlwaysOn Support, Auto Scale Rules

The other big update is support for SQL Server AlwaysOn Availability Groups, a way to include multi database failover, multiple replicas, backups and monitoring among other things. This should ensure high availability for Windows Azure Virtual Machines, but also allowing for things like offloading BI reporting and backups to secondary machines.

Even on premise SQL Server deployments can make use of SQL Server AlwaysOn support by having secondary replicas running in the cloud on Windows Azure Virtual Machines. This kind of high availability could be a big draw for Windows Azure considering how many on premise systems are out there already.

Microsoft has also added time based auto scale rules with this update, and this will allow for scaling up or down based on time of day. Manual and dynamic scaling settings are already included, but now there is a Day or Night setting for increasing instances during the day and lowering them at night, for example.

Other updates include enhanced load balancing configuration and management, and an added Management Services section of the Portal. Management Services is the new home of the Alerts and Operation Logs tabs that previously were found under Settings.