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Microsoft's cloud expands with Azure app development tools

Azure App Service combines existing tools and adds cross-platform capabilities for streamlined mobile and Web application development.

Microsoft continues its push to simultaneously streamline and expand services on Azure with a set of tools for developers working on cross-platform applications.

Azure App Service is a mix of existing and new services packaged for developers working on mobile and Web applications. It pulls together Azure Websites, Mobile Services and BizTalk Services, and adds new capabilities for automation and API connections between on-premises and cloud platforms.

App Service represents Microsoft's latest effort to bolster the reach and capabilities of Azure, said Carl Brooks, an analyst with 451 Research LLC, based in New York.

"That's just Microsoft owning the world," Brooks said. "They will have something for every angle of cloud."

Among the new features is Logic Apps, which allows developers to automate business processes for on-premises workloads, Azure platform as a service offerings, social media sites such as Twitter, and software as a service applications, including SalesForce or Dropbox. The other key addition is API Apps, which lets developers select from a library of existing APIs or create their own to connect to on-premises workloads, Azure or other cloud platforms.

That's just Microsoft owning the world. They will have something for every angle of cloud.
Carl Brooksanalyst, 451 Research, LLC, based in New York

Amazon has more sophisticated capabilities and more control for mobile and Web application development, but the Microsoft offering provides a lower bar for customers to build these applications, albeit with potential cookie-cutter results, Brooks said.

There's a gradual shift to higher-level services with cloud, and this move fits with that trend, said Jeffrey Hammond, vice president and principal analyst with Forrester Research, Inc., based in Cambridge, Mass.

"Amazon certainly had a really good lead for early developer adoption with customers who really wanted infrastructure as a service and to control all the details of compute and storage," Hammond said. "The second wave is happy to exchange a little bit of control for speed and for ease of deployment and the ability to easily test different scenarios with higher levels of service."

The additional resources and the pooling of existing services will offer clarity to developers who have been confused by the range of services available in cloud computing, Hammond said. He cited the example of Microsoft customers using Azure for a mobile back-end with Azure Websites, which is not what it was structured for.

App Service is the second rollout in as many weeks focused on bundled, streamlined processes on Azure. Microsoft last week introduced Azure IoT Suite for ingesting, interpreting and presenting data collected by Internet of Things sensors.

API and business processes upgrades on Azure

API Apps is a welcome addition because it allows users to take advantage of the cloud to pull data from a variety of sources without having to do it manually, said Ervis Zeqo, a systems engineer and Azure architect with eMazzanti Technologies, a Microsoft partner and IT consultancy in Hoboken, N.J.

Public relations firms or entertainment companies, for example, that use third-party tools to monitor social media and other online venues rely on the vendor's parameters. But App Service allows them to customize filters and simplify reporting, he added.

"I definitely see a rise in the need for this," Zeqo said. "It just makes a lot of things they were doing manually a lot easier and they don't have to train every single person to pull this data or how to pull that report."

Logic Apps, which automates business processes, is perhaps the most intriguing aspect of App Service. It's a service that's starting to build around an architecture better suited for cloud's scale by using small bits of processing power and automated workloads, Hammond said.

"It's really attractive for developers," Hammond said. "They never would have thought of deploying something that heavyweight in their own shop, especially for their own workloads."

App Service also benefits system administrators by allowing them to manage the resources running the applications, including role-based access for scaling and provisioning, as well as monitoring and logging capabilities, Microsoft said.

App Service is available in free and shared tiers, as well as basic, standard and premium editions that run apps in dedicated private VMs. The basic tier starts with one core, 1.75 GB of RAM, 10 GB of storage and costs $0.075 per hour. Premium editions, which are currently offered in preview at reduced costs, provide up to four cores, 7 GB of RAM, 250 GB of storage and cost $0.40 per hour.

Trevor Jones is the news writer for SearchCloudComputing. You can reach him at [email protected].

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