On Monday morning, at the PDC 2008 keynote, Microsoft announced Windows Azure, a new platform for hosting and enabling something what they call ‘services in the cloud’. It was, as seems to be traditional for keynotes, an awful presentation, but the idea is quite interesting. In essence (from what I understand of all this), they want to move developing services to a higher level by offloading the operational aspects to a managed hosting environment and introducing tools so that we can use Visual Studio to develop and model services and their operational requirements as if they were first class citizens.
The new “m” language intends to continue what the Web Service Software Factory: Modeling Edition has started: being able to design services using DSL-style graphical models. However, it does not seem to be a traditional programming language, because it appears to be tightly linked to SQL Server as a repository for storing them. Windows Azure is the on-line platform that Microsoft offers for hosting and managing these services, including Windows Workflows and the full suite of SQL Server features such as reporting and analysis services. Even differences between identity management is taken care of, although I don’t quite understand how that is going to work. They mentioned that these services are hosted at Microsoft, but I wonder if it’s something other hosting providers are allowed to do as well. And since the management interfaces for it interoperate with the next edition of Microsoft Systems Center, you can treat the hosted environment as if it is part of your own infrastructure.
Since the most complex tasks of developing services are the operational aspects such as security or technical decisions like where to host the Windows Workflow runtime, Windows Azure could have serious impact on our work. However, I really doubt whether organizations are willing to hand over their business-critical data to a company like Microsoft. All my customers genuinely believe that the only place where their data is safe, is at their own premises. However, I do know that most companies have a lot of trouble setting up a secure environment for that. And if there is one company who knows something about security and has invested heavily in it, it is Microsoft.
It is all a bit vague yet and many things are still open for interpretation, but things will become much clearer in the next couple of weeks (and hopefully at the PDC).