Azure Services – where to start

Over the weekend I received the last of the keys/tokens that grant me access to the Azure Services CTP (Community Technology Preview). If you’re like me, you’ve been hearing the hype about Azure for some time, but are likely still confused about exactly what it is. Before I get into my explanation, I’d like to preface this post by clearly stating that like you, I am still learning this. Now, lets start with "What is Azure"…
I’d like to start out with a couple definitions that I believe are important. Azure Services is the name that describes the Azure platform and all the products/services it offers. Think of it like you would Microsoft Office. Office is no one application, but a collection of tools that can be used independently or together. A key difference is that with Azure Services, the services are all ‘in the cloud’ and are not just used as they exist. They are building blocks you’ll use to construct your own custom solutions.
This of course leads us into a discussion of those building blocks. Windows Azure is the custom application development platform, a cloud based .NET application server. You can build your custom .NET applications and then deploy them into the cloud. And while you are still doing .NET development, you’re going to be coding for the Windows Azure platform and not simply Windows XP or Windows Server. The language may be the same, but the rules are different.
Other building blocks include .NET Services for common tasks like access control, service buses, workflow, SQL Services for structured RDBMS needs, Live Services to access items like Live Search and Live Mesh, and future offerings such as SharePoint Services and Dynamics CRM Services. All these, like Windows Azure, will likely be subscription based services offered à la carte. Depending on the solution you require, you’ll purchase the appropriate services and quantities (possibly based on bandwidth, storage, or processing power required).
I’m certain multiple books are are already being written on each of these services. so I won’t try to fully explain them all here. I do intend to try and interact with each of them over the next couple months, until the CTP ends (estimated to be sometime in 2nd quarter). Over the next few blog posts we’ll touch on them and my own findings. Starting with Windows Azure. I’ve already been exploring this application hosting building block and I guarantee there’s enough material in there for several blog updates. 🙂

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