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Automation and monitoring coming for Windows Azure developers

Answering a common complaint, Microsoft plans a "service management API" for Windows Azure.

Microsoft will release new APIs for Azure that will expand the capabilities of the cloud computing development platform to include automatic provisioning and monitoring services. The APIs are slated for release in the fall, when Azure is released to the public.

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Developers are eager for the additional capability, saying that the APIs currently included in the Software Development Kits (SDKs) make it necessary to manually manage virtual application instances, which is a damper on experimentation. Brent Stineman, senior consultant and developer with Sogeti USA, says he'll be better able to judge how to use Azure for clients after seeing these APIs.

"The key thing about Azure is you're paying per instance," Stineman said. Users won't see the much bally-hooed pay-as-you-go elastic capability in Azure if they have to manually switch servers on or off. He added that automation was key to developing applications that can show the economic benefits of cloud computing. "Eventually you'll want to add 2,3,4 [or more] instances" and turn them off again as demand increases or decreases, he said.

While he sees a lot of potential, Stineman said the manual process limits what he can put together for clients, but he's sure Microsoft is aware of the issue. "There's been rumbling from Microsofties for quite some time… for me, it's a key piece I've been waiting for" to make Azure is viable for development, he said.

Rob Gillen, a .NET developer and researcher who works at Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Tennessee, also puts automation high on his wish list, as well as the need to monitor workloads.

We will continue to add more and more APIs as we get more sophisticated.
Prashant Ketkar, director of Azure's product marketing,

"What I feel is really missing are APIs for provisioning and configuration of the platform," Gillen wrote in an email. "Another collection of APIs that would be of interest is that of health of a given node - processor utilization, memory utilization work load, etc."

Azure allows users to run instances in either "web roles" -- applications accessible by HTTP, like a website or a web portal, and "worker roles" that process jobs in the background and talk to the web role. Gillen said the advantage in being able to bake in monitoring and provisioning are obvious. A developer could automate the distribution of workloads and worker roles as needs changed rather than having a human do it.

Stineman and Gillen will have to hold their breath a little while yet, because Microsoft says that the new APIs are in the works. They will not, however, be available until Azure is open to the public, targeted for Microsoft's Professional Developer's Conference in November.

"Our target is, by commercial launch, we will expose those [planned] APIs for monitoring and provisioning," said Prashant Ketkar, director of product marketing for Azure. He termed it the "service management API" and said it would allow users to track performance and automate certain tasks. "You can increase the amount of instances you are running based on workload," he said.

Ketkar added that Azure's design as a virtual platform for software applications would continue to evolve. "We will continue to add more and more APIs as we get more sophisticated," he said. Recently, Azure has added support for popular non-Microsoft programming languages like Java and Ruby.

Carl Brooks is the Technology Writer for For more information, check out our Troposphere blog.

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