Microsoft's Azure Services Platform
You can just imagine the excited faces in the crowd at the Microsoft Professional Developers Conference this week when Ray Ozzie started talking about Microsoft's move to the cloud. We're sure anyone who develops on and uses their technologies is likely thrilled to finally be heading there. But does it really matter to the larger IT world? To those who work with Amazon or Google? Has Microsoft merely met up with the competition, only to continue to support its own technologies and solutions?The Azure Services Platform is Microsoft's cloud computing platform, hosted in their vast array of data centers. It offers both an operating system and a set of developer services that you can use individually or together. Developers will be able to build applications for the web, connected devices, PCs, server or hybrid solution -- offering a set of services that enable both online and on-premise solutions. This is Microsoft's vision of "Software Plus Services".

Some of the highlights of the Azure Services Platform include:

Windows Azure

Azure is the operating system that provides services with a hosting and management environment, including low-level scalable storage, computation and networking.

It is integrated with Visual Studio and supports .Net managed applications. Microsoft says that although it currently only supports .Net, they are committed to providing an open platform and will at some point support non-Microsoft languages and environments like Ruby, PHP, Eclipse and Python.

Live Services

A set of services to build rich social applications for PCs, phones, PC applications and Web sites.

Microsoft SQL Services

Provides a web-based distributed relational database which includes web services for queries, search, data synchronization and reporting. Structured and unstructured data is supported.

Microsoft .Net Services

These are the building blocks for creating .net applications that are cloud based or cloud aware and include services for access control and workflow.

Microsoft SharePoint Services & Dynamics CRM Services

Not to be confused with WSS, SharePoint Services are simply applications built for the cloud or, again, cloud aware. The same holds for Dynamics CRM Services. Both of the services are not available yet.Live Services, SQL Services, .Net Services and SharePoint and Dynamics CRM Services exist on top of Windows Azure and can be used separately or together to build solutions.

The Cost Living in Azure

Pricing for the new cloud platform is based on four principles:* Consumption* Pricing attractive with the market (i.e. competition)* Market expansion opps for Microsoft partner* Easy access through the web or other existing channels and programsAs a result, it's still hard to tell how they are going to charge. Although they say your options are to pay upfront, post-pay or reserve capacity.

Is the Azure Services Platform a Big Deal?

In is keynote at the PDC, Ozzie called the Azure Services Platform a "game-changing set of technologies." Rajan Chandras blogged in Intelligent Enterprise about this, wondering what was so "game-changing"? "On one hand, Azure offers the promise of all that Microsoft can offer in cloud computing, and for the multitude of Microsoft developers out there, this is great news. For others, though, Azure is yesterday's news: there is nothing novel in being able to build an application that uses a database, and host/manage it in the cloud — Amazon, Google, etc. are old hands at this. Furthermore, requiring it to be a .Net managed application only serves to weaken the appeal (but then again, where would a Microsoft offering be without .Net?)."From the sounds of it, Microsoft may be betting the farm on Azure. We'll be keen to see how well it progresses in services and openness over the next few years.On October 27, a Community Technology Preview (CTP) was released for the Azure Services Platform. You can register to be apart of the preview, but you may get short-listed (or possibly long-listed). Check their developer center too on MSDN, lots of information there to keep you reading for ages.