The shift in focus of Windows Azure for next year

The shift in focus of Windows Azure
The shift in focus of Windows Azure

Once in a while, I check my Windows Azure bill to see if I’m not overspending, so this morning, while satisfiedly flipping through my spending, I saw the “preview features” button. Thinking “Oh yeah, there were new features available in preview. Let’s play!” I clicked on it, revealing the new features Windows Azure Backup and Hyper-V Recovery Manager.

Being a developer myself by nature, I have the tendency to stay away from everything that remotely looks like IT-Pro stuff, but, after a brief moment of disappointment, these new features intrigued me. Besides being pretty cool features, they are, however, very different types of components than I am used to in previous preview releases and, in my opinion, signify a shift in focus Windows Azure has taken in the last few months.

Developers and IT-Pro

In the past years Windows Azure was PaaS oriented and a developer’s playground. These developers were literally pampered with all sorts of new play things, like easier ways to let mobile devices communicate with Windows Azure Mobile Services, to encode media files with Windows Azure Media Services, to quickly create websites with Windows Azure Websites and to crunch unstructured and semi-structured data with HDInsights. The trend that I’m seeing now is that this will change slightly.

The GA release of IaaS, earlier this April and the reduction in pricing for virtual machines and virtual networks – together with new components like Windows Azure Backup and Hyper-V Recovery Manager – gave way for a more IaaS based Azure. In yesterday’s blog “Windows Azure: Announcing New Dev/Test Offering, BizTalk Services, SSL Support with Web Sites, AD Improvements, Per Minute Billing“, Scott Guthrie announced new improvements and features for Windows Azure, targeting mostly IaaS and price reductions. All these changes and scenario’s including virtual machines in one way or another, are narrowing the gap between on premise networks and systems and cloud networks and with that it’s increasingly drawing IT departments into Windows Azure.

The shift in focus of Windows Azure

In the past year, Azure has come at the point where – following the diffusion of innovations theory – the innovators (mostly developers) meet up with the early-adopters, now including IT-Pro’s. But who we really want to reach is the majority where most of our customers reside. The influence IT departments have in the adoption of new technology is still decisive: customers still rely on their IT departments to adopt new technology. In reaching the majority, we will see that it will be essential to include IT-Pro in our cloud propositions.

crossing the chasm
crossing the chasm

In the next year, I think, we will see much more IaaS, tools to make IT-Pro life easier, SaaS and Hybrid Cloud oriented solutions to facilitate the adoption of Windows Azure in the early majority group. Developers will have to face the fact that the will no longer be the (only) driving force behind cloud and IT-Pro’s will have to embrace it with all the marvels that come with it. With that realized, Microsoft will create enough momentum to reach the majority group with a mainstream product.

Windows Azure Datacenter Dublin: No high heels and don’t be drunk!

“No high heels and don’t be drunk”, Sandra Schäfer, Microsoft’s SMSP Azure Lead had told us the day before our visit to the Windows Azure Datacenter Dublin. Her remark had been rewarded with joyous laughter, the audience had been filled with only mildly geekish men, myself included. Judging from the faces of my fellow circle partners – and mine – they were slightly more worried about the ‘not being drunk part’, given the fact that we were in Dublin, where Guinness flows from every tap and in large quantities.

Windows Azure Datacenter Dublin
Windows Azure Datacenter Dublin

My colleague Jean-Claude Chan and I had come to Dublin for the annual Western European Azure Circle Partner Summit – 2013 – representing Devoteam Netherlands and I was absolutely stoked. I would enter the heart of Western European Windows Azure, the mega datacenter in Dublin, an enormously high tech and environmentally correct system, able to power half of Western Europe’s cloud needs.

Windows Azure Datacenter Dublin

So, there we were, flat shoes, sober and full of anticipation, standing before a building, not much different than your average cargo depot. Slightly larger, yes, but really quite ordinary. That was unexpected! In my mind I had created an image of vast fields of containers – like in that scene where Neo wakes up from the Matrix in the pod field – all providing an extremely large cloud endeavor. But my initial self-inflicted disappointment would soon be replaced again by a raving enthusiasm.

First of all, the datacenter is incredibly well guarded. Without going into details I can safely say (with the NDA and all) that you just do not get into the datacenter if you have no business there. The tour guide joked that if you would step out of line, you’d hear the clicking sound of snipers cocking their rifles. Judging by the security, I am still not entirely sure that he was joking.

Evolution in Datacenter Design

The building itself, common looking as I thought it was – and with that showing my poor judgment – is not at all ordinary. The entire structure has been designed to maximize energy and water saving by using outside air to cool down the servers. Every room shows an evolution in their service, each successive phase bringing in new insight and design improvements to the water and energy efficiency and with that improving system capacity and cost reduction.

Evolution Computing
Evolution Computing

Showing the evolutionary way the datacenter is built, the guide showed us little dents in the floor of one of the colocation rooms, telling us that when they had first discovered them, they had been baffled. Not knowing what it was and how it got there, they had started to go into a mild panic, until the heard the click-clacking sound of… high heels. High heels were immediately banned from the datacenter. As for the woman wearing them, I hope the snipers didn’t get her…

Deployment update error when publishing to Windows Azure

Once in a while, when fiddling around with your Windows Azure projects, you can run into a deployment update error while publishing to Windows Azure. The other day I ran into the following error: after removing a local storage setting in my ServiceDefinition.csdef file, I wasn’t able to publish to Azure anymore.

Deployment update error - Error updating deployment

Deployment update error reason

The reason was that I had already published it with a local  storage configuration. When I did so the first time, the fabric controller read the service definition file and created the virtual machine accordingly. Since the default behaviour of Visual Studio is to incrementally update the virtual machine, instead of creating a new one each time your cloud service is deployed, my new service definition was out of sync.Thankfully, there is a really simple solution for this.

The solution

The solution for this kind of deployment error is to let the fabric controller recreate the virtual machine for the new service definition, but only if an incremental update will fail. Here is how you do it.

Right click your cloud services project and choose “Publish”.

Deployment update error Windows Azure - Right click cloud services project

In the publish dialog that opens, press “previous” so you can access the settings. Then switch to the advanced settings tab.

Error updating deployment - Advanced settings publish settings

The default behaviour is to do a deployment update, instead of a full deployment. This is fine and usually exactly what you want, but in my case I wanted the deployment to do an update when possible and if not, to do a full deployment.

When you press the “Settings…” link, you get the deployment settings and tick the checkbox saying “If deployment can’t be updated, do a full deployment”.

Error updating deployment - Deployment settings

You can read more about this feature on MSDN – Publish Windows Azure Application Wizard

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