This is the second part of the interview with Mario Szpuszta, who works with Microsoft as Technical Evangelist for Windows Azure. Mario’s answers are stated with [MS], the questions are marked with [MMH]. The Interview is divided into several parts and will be published over the next weeks.
[MMH] So a major feature was the persistent VM Role. This is basically Infrastructure as a Service. Why is Microsoft now also providing an IaaS Platform?
[MS] The official name is Windows Azure Virtual Machines. Well, we decided to provide IaaS capabilities to make it easier for many companies with legacy applications to also move to the cloud. Still the primary strategy is PaaS as we believe that is the most effective way for operating your own applications in the cloud. But for many companies and ISVs it is hard to make the direct move to PaaS with all the implications. IaaS enables them to move to the cloud faster and think about approaching PaaS in a step-by-step fashion.
There’s one thing I’d like to highlight specifically: we put really lots of efforts to enable mix-solutions of IaaS and PaaS deployments. That essentially enables customers to use PaaS and benefit from the advantages of PaaS wherever possible while at the same time leverage IaaS where PaaS is not easy to implement short time and integrate those two world together. One example: let’s assume you have built a web application with a SQL Server database in the back-end. Further assume in that SQL database you make heavy use of SQL Server features such as .NET integration by writing most of your stored procedures in .NET using SQL CLR. When moving that solution to Azure you’ll quickly notice that SQL CLR is not supported in Windows Azure SQL Databases (as some other features aren’t supported). Now you have the choice: wait with your path to the cloud until you’ve re-written all that stored procedures. Or move to the cloud now, leverage PaaS for your web applications and put the SQL database in a full SQL Server running in Windows Azure Virtual machines connected with your PaaS deployment through virtual networks. That is a pretty powerful scenario! By leveraging PaaS for the web sites you don’t need to take care of managing those web servers anymore (patching, updating, load balancing) thus saving lots of operational overheads. At the same time you can re-use your existing efforts in the SQL database (your SQL CLR procedures) through operating SQL Server in a Virtual Machine on Azure that is in the same virtual network as your PaaS instances.
And exactly these are the scenarios we’re thinking about to support by introducing Virtual Machines. In our opinion it’s still all about the app and the service you want to provide and IaaS will make the on-boarding into the cloud much easier.
Of course there are some other scenarios we are thinking about when it comes to IaaS. One thing is, for example, the installation and operation of demo environments or test environments. Such environments can be setup quickly through IaaS in the cloud without big investments upfront and without waiting until new hardware and software orders are shipping to your company. That is of course another area where we see tremendous benefits by offering IaaS…
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[MMH] I hear a lot of people saying that the persistent VM Role is made for SharePoint (among others, of course). What opportunities do you see with Azure and SharePoint 2013, as there is now an app store? What great things are now possible for ISVs?
[MS] SharePoint is definitely one scenario we’re addressing with Azure Virtual Machines. The other three primary scenarios we’ve been testing for are SQL Server and Active Directory. So you can operate all three on top of Virtual Machines on Azure. Of course in addition to those you essentially can operate any other software you can install on either Windows or Linux (these are the guest operating systems we do support with Azure Virtual Machines). But SQL, AD and SharePoint are specifically tested by us and we will provide guidance for how-to best operate those and where the limits of Azure VMs will be with regards to operating those (in terms of load, performance etc).
[MMH] Another big release this year was Windows 8. Are there any great opportunities for Developers and ISVs to utilize Windows Azure?
[MS] Windows 8 is going to be a big opportunity for service providers that do offer a cloud-based version of their product. For me it’s really a big channel to become well-known with your service and win new customers in a large scale. If you build an app for the market place you will get visible on millions of devices in the upcoming year thus introducing a big opportunity for you as a software vendor. That way Windows 8 is a perfect front-end for a cloud based offering and a great marketing-channel. I’d recommend everybody to leverage that opportunity!! For developers we do also offer specific SDKs for Windows 8 that make the integration between Win8 and Azure a peace-of-cake and leverage services such as notifications and the like. So also from that perspective it’s looking really good and it’s just going to be a fun experience for developers building new kinds of apps on-top of their services;)
[MMH] Talking about the future; do you see that the Worker and Web Roles (Compute) will become commodity? What will it mean to customers?
[MS] In my personal opinion (yes, my personal opinion) I would guess that compute power in the cloud will become a commodity service long-term. I think compute will be something that everybody expects to get from the cloud for a fairly cheap price. That of course brings up the question how cloud-vendors such as Microsoft or Amazon will still be able to make money out of cloud services because essentially at the moment compute-power is the biggest source of income for them!? And here I think it’s going to come from higher-level platform services. Platform services that do offer true functionality instead of just providing infrastructure. Just like, for example, Windows Azure Media Services where you get e.g. encoding services and you will pay (as soon as preview is over;)) for the number of GB you encoded. But this is my personal opinion, and we’ll see if that becomes a truth or not:)