Windows Azure is Microsoft’s cloud application platform. Windows Azure can be used to build a web application that runs and stores its data in Microsoft datacenters. It can connect on-premises applications with each other or map between different sets of identity information.
In June 2012, Windows Azure released the following new features:
- Websites allows developers to build sites using ASP.NET, PHP, or Node.js and can be deployed using FTP, Git, or Team Foundation Server.
- Virtual machines let developers migrate applications and infrastructure without changing existing code, and can run both Windows Server and Linux virtual machines.
- Cloud services – Microsoft’s Platform as a Service (PaaS) environment that is used to create scalable applications and services. Supports multi-tier scenarios and automated deployments.
- Data management – SQL Database, formerly known as SQL Azure Database, works to create, scale and extend applications into the cloud using Microsoft SQL Server technology. Integrates with Active Directory and Microsoft System Center and Hadoop.
- Media services – A PaaS offering that can be used for encoding, content protection, streaming, and/or analytics.
The Windows Azure Platform provides an API built on REST, HTTP, and XML that allows a developer to interact with the services provided by Windows Azure. Microsoft also provides a client-side managed class library which encapsulates the functions of interacting with the services. It also integrates with Microsoft Visual Studio, Git, and Eclipse.
In October 2012, Microsoft released a downloadable PDF poster that summarizes Windows Azure and the features in it. The PDF contains clickable areas pointing to additional documentation.
- Web sites – High density hosting of web sites. This feature was announced in preview form in June 2012 at the Meet Windows Azure event. Customers can create web sites in PHP, .NET, and Node.js, or select from several open source applications from a gallery to deploy. This comprises one aspect of the Platform as a Service (PaaS) offerings for the Windows Azure Platform.
- Virtual machines – Announced in preview form at the Meet Windows Azure event in June 2012 the Windows Azure Virtual Machines comprise the Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS) offering from Microsoft for their public cloud. Customers can create Virtual Machines, of which they have complete control, to run the Microsoft Data Centers. As of the preview the Virtual Machines supported Windows Server 2008 and 2012 operating systems and a few distributions of Linux. Since May 2013, the Virtual Machine offering left the preview state and went into General Availability state (GA).
- Cloud services – Previously named “Hosted Services”, the Cloud Services for Windows Azure comprise one aspect of the PaaS offerings from the Windows Azure Platform. The Cloud Services are containers of hosted applications. These applications can be internet-facing public web applications (such as web sites and e-commerce solutions), or they can be private processing engines for other work, such as processing orders or analyzing data.
- Developers can write code for Cloud Services in a variety of different programming languages; however, there are specific software development kits (SDKs) started by Microsoft for Python, Java, node.JS and .NET. Other languages may have support through Open Source projects. Microsoft published the source code for their client libraries on GitHub.
- Data management
- SQL Database
- BLOB Storage
- Business Analytics
- SQL Reporting
- Data Marketplace
- Active Directory
- Access Control Service
- Windows Azure Service Bus
- Media Services
- Mobile Services
Windows Azure uses a specialized operating system, called Windows Azure, to run its “fabric layer” — a cluster hosted at Microsoft’s datacenters that manages computing and storage resources of the computers and provisions the resources (or a subset of them) to applications running on top of Windows Azure. Windows Azure has been described as a “cloud layer” on top of a number of Windows Server systems, which use Windows Server 2008 and a customized version of Hyper-V, known as the Windows Azure Hypervisor to provide virtualization of services. Scaling and reliability are controlled by the Windows Azure Fabric Controller so the services and environment do not crash if one of the servers crashes within the Microsoft datacenter and provides the management of the user’s web application like memory resources and load balancing.