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Developments in the Azure and Windows Server 8 pairing

Microsoft made the Windows Server 8 and Azure connection clearer, raising hopes for easier development in the cloud.

ANAHEIM, Calif. -- The shroud of secrecy has been lifted surrounding Windows Server 8 and Azure. What lies behind it is greater symmetry between the cloud computing and virtualized HA infrastructures, improved storage and an Azure toolkit that promises to help enterprises easily develop an Azure service and deploy it to end users.

Windows 8 ultimately will provide the underpinnings of the Windows Azure platform with the intent to democratize high availability (HA) clusters to push the "scale-up envelope" with features previously reserved for high-performance computing Windows Server 2008 R2 versions.

This means DevOps teams will need to gain expertise with Window 8's new features to obtain maximum return on investment with public cloud computing as well as with private and hybrid clouds.

Windows 8 will include new alternative disk storage architectures called Storage Pools and Spaces, Satya Nadella, president of Microsoft's servers and tools business, said here in his BUILD conference keynote. Storage Pools aggregate commodity disk drives into isolated JBOD (Just a Bunch of Disks) units and attaches them to Windows for simplified management. Storage Spaces do the same for virtual machines.

Azure also saw its share of storage improvements, which team member Brad Calder outlined in the "Inside Windows Azure storage: what's new and under the hood deep dives" session:

  • Geo-replication helps with disaster recovery and a new version of the REST API to enable some functionality improvements for Windows Azure binary large objects (blobs), tables and queues.
  • Table Upsert allows a single request to be sent to Windows Azure Tables to either insert an entity, if it doesn't exist, or update and replace an existing entity.
  • Table Query Projection (Select) allows a client to retrieve a subset of an entity's properties. This improves performance by reducing the serialization/deserialization cost and bandwidth used for retrieving entities.
  • Improved blob HTTP header support aids streaming applications and browser downloads.
  • Queue UpdateMessage allows clients to have a lease on a message and renew the lease while the system processes it as well as update the contents of the message to track processing progress.
  • Queue InsertMessage with visibility timeout allows a newly inserted message to stay invisible on the queue until the timeout expires.

Windows 8 client development tools 
Details about programming Windows 8 applications with Visual Studio 2011 Express also were previewed in Windows 8 client developer tools. MSDN subscribers also can download the Window 8 Server from the Developer Network. In addition to OS bits, both developer previews include the following:

  • Microsoft Visual Studio 11 Express for Windows Developer Preview
  • Microsoft Expression Blend 5 Developer Preview
  • Windows SDK for Metro style apps
  • 28 Metro style apps including the BUILD Conference app
DevOps teams will need to gain expertise with Window 8's new features to obtain maximum return on investment.

Windows Azure developers probably will want to download and install the Windows Azure Toolkit for Windows 8 from CodePlex. According to CodePlex:

"This toolkit has all the tools to make it easy to develop a Windows Azure service and deploy it to your users. In addition to documentation, this toolkit includes Visual Studio project templates for a sample Metro style app and a Windows Azure cloud project. This tool is designed to accelerate development so that developers can start enabling Windows 8 features, such as notifications, for their app with minimal time and experience. Use this toolkit to start building and customizing your own service to deliver rich Metro style apps."

Windows Azure AppFabric Service Bus and TFS on Azure also include the following improvements:

  • Asynchronous Cloud Eventing allows developers to distribute event notifications to occasionally connected clients, for example, phones, remote workers, kiosks and so on.
  • Event-driven Service Oriented Architecture enables you to build loosely coupled systems that can evolve over time.
  • Advanced Intra-App Messaging provides load-leveling and load-balancing, so developers can build highly scalable, resilient applications.

Developers and operations folks were enthusiastic about new Windows 8 Server features and their potential contribution to future Windows Azure upgrades.

Roger Jennings is a data-oriented .NET developer and writer, the principal consultant of OakLeaf Systems and curator of the OakLeaf Systems blog. He's also the author of 30+ books on the Windows Azure Platform, Microsoft operating systems (Windows NT and 2000 Server), databases (SQL Azure, SQL Server and Access), .NET data access, Web services and InfoPath 2003. His books have more than 1.25 million English copies in print and have been translated into 20+ languages.

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