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Behind the curtain of Microsoft's Azure song and dance


Windows Azure customers anxious to learn what Microsoft has been hiding behind its back can finally exhale later this week in San Francisco.


One key piece of the Azure update is support for what Microsoft calls “Persistent Virtual Machine (VM) Roles,” which will let Windows Azure customers run legacy applications in VMs. That includes running Linux, sources said.


Another capability is a Web hosting framework codenamed “Antares” that will provide a fine granularity Web apps-hosting service aimed at customers who don’t see Azure as an economical platform for webpage hosting.


But will Microsoft be able to deliver those features sooner rather than later? Not in a single iteration, one source said. Instead of pulling off the “All singing, all dancing” vision Microsoft would like to promise, it’s more likely the company will need at least two iterations to achieve the basics.


Of course, now that the Windows 8 Release Preview is available there is sure to be a Windows Azure demo on tablets and mobile devices at the event.


Another key trend to watch for, sources said, is an increased focus on hybrid clouds.


Over the short to mid-term, Microsoft aims to achieve, “write once and run anywhere” capabilities for Windows Azure, if I can use the Java slogan. Customers want to be able to run their applications either in the data center or in the cloud, or as a hybrid of two interchangeably. And they want to be able to do so without rewriting any code or worrying about vendor lock-in.


The best way to do that seems simple enough — run applications on the same API on both platforms — Windows Azure and Windows Server 2012. That might not be as easy as it sounds, though.


Windows Azure numbers lower than Amazon

Just as important as what Microsoft says, however, is what Microsoft doesn’t say. That may be telling when it comes to judging the relative veracity and importance of plans and promises at the Meet Windows Azure event, which will be streamed.


Microsoft has been notably quiet about Windows Azure’s status for more than a year. That may be because sales of Windows Azure have been disappointing to date. Windows Azure has garnered fewer than 100,000 customers so far, according to the research firm Directions On Microsoft, based in Kirkland, Wash.


That’s quite lower than industry estimates for market leader Amazon Web Services.


In some respects, it’s the same struggle Microsoft has gone through before. How can the company and its products remain relevant in a computing universe that is constantly changing?


The event will likely resemble many previous Microsoft marketing splashes, with system integrators, application developers, resellers and other partners lined up to show solidarity for the company’s strategy du jour.


Again, when Thursday rolls around, remember to listen closely for what doesn’t get said as well as what does.


Stuart J. Johnston is Senior News Writer for Contact him at

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Unfortunately, Microsoft seemed to somewhat pull out of the High Performance Computing (HPC) space because of Azure, seemingly abandoning 2008 HPC Server. Even though most places are Linux shops when it comes to HPC, it was unfortunate to see them do so. The story I heard was they were shifting resources to Azure, which doesn't seem to have panned out for them so far. It will be interesting to see what happens to Azure now that Google has also entered the public cloud space...Ian NateAdaptive Computing