June 8, 2012 4 Comments
November 2010 marked the release/launch of Windows Azure. In November of 2011, we received the 1.3 SDK and our first major updates to the service since its launch a year before. Over the next 18 months, there were numerous updates that added features. But we really didn’t have a fundamental shift in the product. All that changed on June 7th 2012.
The BIG NEWS
June 7th marked the Meet Windows Azure Virtual conference. This three hour event was broadcast on the internet from San Francisco in front of a small, live audience. And in its first hour took thecovers off of several HUGE new features:
- Persistent Virtual Machines – IaaS style hosting of Windows or Linux based virtual machines
- Windows Azure Web Sites – high density hosting
- Dedicated Cache – a new distributed, in-memory dedicated cache feature
- Windows Azure Virtual Network – create trust relationships with cloud hosted VM’s via your existing VPN gateway
Also announced were:
- A new management portal – compatible with multiple browsers and devices (it’s a preview though, not 100% feature complete)
- “Hosted Services” renamed to “cloud services”
- new 1.7 SDK w/ Visual Studio 2012 support
- updated Windows Azure Storage Pricing – transaction costs reduced by 90% and option to turn off geo-replication and save $0.032/gb
- Media Services (already announced, but general preview now available)
- Additional country support (89 total countries and 19 local currencies)
The reality is that bloggers all over the world area already working on posts on the new features. I had limited bandwidth these days (I’d love consulting if it wasn’t for all those pesky clients – just kidding folks), so I figured I’d provide you with some links for you to explore until I’m able to spend some time exploring the new features on your behalf and diving into them in detail.
Virtual Machines, Web Sites, and a new Cache option
The first update that came out a day before the event from Bill Laing, Corporate Vice President of Server and Cloud at Microsoft (aka the person that owns the datacenter side of Windows Azure). In his Announcing New Windows Azure Services to Deliver “Hybrid Cloud” post, Bill gave a quick intro to what was coming. But this wasn’t much more than a teaser.
The next big post was from “the Gu” himself and posted as he was giving his kick-off presentation. In Meet the new Windows Azure, Scott was kind enough to dive into some of the new features complete with pictures. So if you don’t have a subscription you can see the preview of the new management portal (it’s a preview because its not yet 100% complete, so expect future updates). He also discussed the new Windows Azure Virtual Machines feature. Unlike the previous VM Role, Virtual Machines are persistent (the PaaS roles are all stateless) and MSFT is providing support not just for Windows Server 2008 R2 and Windows Server 2012 (RC) but also Linux distros CentOS 6.2, OpenSUSE, and Ubuntu. You may also see a pre-defined SQL Server 2012 image. So this indicates we may see more Microsoft server products available as Windows Azure Virtual Machine images.
The real wow factor of the event seemed to be Windows Azure Web Sites. For lack of a better explanation, this is a high density hosting solution for web sites that features both inexpensive shared hosting or dedicated (non-multi-tenant) hosting. With this you can do just a couple clicks and deploy many common packages such as WordPress to Windows Azure Web Sites in just a few minutes. And to top it all off, this supports multiple publishing models.
The distributed cache feature was the one I was really waiting for. I was fortunate enough to get early access to this feature because of a project I was working on. And I think someone at MSFT might have taken a bit of pity on me when I posted a while back that I was going to build my own distributed cache system. This new feature allows you to set aside Windows Azure Cloud Services resources (memory from our deployed compute instances) and use them to create a “ring” that is an in-memory distributed cache. Some call this a “free” cache, but I don’t like that term because you are paying for it. You’re just able to leverage any left-over memory you might have in existing instances. If there isn’t any, you’re forced to spin up new instances (maybe even a specific role that does nothing) to host it. And hosting those VM’s still costs you per hour. So “free” isn’t the word I’d use to describe the distributed cache, I prefer “awesome”.
Windows Azure Storage Pricing Changes
Now the most confusing announcement yesterday was some changes to Windows Azure pricing. It was so confusing that the storage team has published two separate blog posts on the subject. The first post was simply announcing the that the “per unit” pricing for Azure Storage transactions went from 10,000 to 100,000, all for the same $0.01 per unit. This is great news and takes away a pricing disparity between Windows Azure and Amazon Web Services.
The next big change is that the Geo-replication features that were announced last fall (I can’t recall it was at BUILD or the “Learn Windows Azure” event), can be turned off. Now Azure storage costs were already reduced to $0.125/gb back in March of 2012. Well with this latest announced, you can turn off geo-replication and save yourself an additional $0.032/gb.
Brad Calder if you read this, thanks for taking the time to help clarify these changes! I would have simply said “it’s a net win!”
Videos, Videos, Videos
Now as you can see, there’s lots to cover. Fortunately, MSFT was prepared and posted slew of new videos.
MeetWindowsAzure.com has a series of Chalk Talk videos covering many of the new features. These range from 10 to 30 minutes in length (with most being only just under 10 minutes) and are great “why should I care” introductions. And as if that weren’t enough, the WindowsAzure account/channel over on YouTube has posted over 20 “tech bite” sized videos of the new features ranging from 2 to 10 minutes in length. You can’t go wrong with these quick and simple intros.
So its still pretty exciting right now. I was present for most of yesterday’s live broadcast. But I still spent a good portion of today sorting through the news to pull this post together. I think these new features merit a honest and open re-evaluation of Windows Azure for anyone that has dismissed it in the past. And for those of us that already like and use the platform, we have some great new tools to help us better deliver exciting solutions.
BTW, if you have a Windows Azure subscription and would like to test drive the preview of some of these new features, you can sign up for it here!
So until next time, I’m going to try and take some time to learn this new features and you can bet I’ll be bringing you along for he ride! Safe travels.
PS – I wonder if there are any surprises left in store for next week at TechEd North America 2012.