Microsoft’s cloud-based operating system, originally referred to as ‘Windows Cloud’ has finally gotten is official name – Azure. The Azure Services Platform is an internet-scale cloud services platform hosted in Microsoft data centers, to provide an operating system and developer services that can be used individually or together.
Cloud computing, also referred to as ‘On Demand Computing’, is a system in which tasks and functions are assigned to a combination of connections, software and services, accessed over a network. The network is referred to as ‘the cloud’. Cloud computing allows users to access supercomputer level power – using a browser, thin client or other access points like an iPhone, BlackBerry, or other mobile computing device. Users can virtually ‘reach’ into the cloud for resources when they require them – hence the ‘On Demand’ reference.
The amount of processing power is made available to users through distributed cluster computing, often in conjunction with server virtualization software like Xen, and other parallel processing systems. So what exactly is ‘Cloud Computing’ used for?
Cloud Computing is generally used to sort or process through extremely large amounts of data. For example, Google essentially ‘clouds’ due to its need to produce accurate results from literally millions of incoming search inquiries at any given time of the day. Google’s approach has been to manufacture hundreds of thousands of its own servers / datacenters from commodity components, connecting relatively inexpensive processors in parallel to create a very powerful and scalable system. Things that general consumers use quite frequently such as, Google Apps, Google Maps, and Google Mail are all ‘cloud’ based applications – they are accessed via the client and handled by a cloud system in the background. Get the idea?
For those of you that do not keep up on this type of stuff, ‘Cloud Computing’ is just another way of saying ‘Grid Computing’ – Grid Computing has been around for a very long time, so there is really nothing new here. ‘Cloud Computing’ or ‘Azure’ is just a new way of marketing the whole idea and making it more readily available to everyone – this is the really good part about it.
According to Microsoft’s description of the ‘Azure’ service:
“Azure reduces the need for up-front technology purchases, and it enables developers to quickly and easily create applications running in the cloud by using their existing skills with the Microsoft Visual Studio development environment and the Microsoft .NET Framework. In addition to managed code languages supported by .NET, Azure will support more programming languages and development environments in the near future. Azure simplifies maintaining and operating applications by providing on-demand compute and storage to host, scale, and manage web and connected applications. Infrastructure management is automated with a platform that is designed for high availability and dynamic scaling to match usage needs with the option of a pay-as-you-go pricing model. Azure provides an open, standards-based and interoperable environment with support for multiple internet protocols, including HTTP, REST, SOAP, and XML.
Microsoft also offers cloud applications ready for consumption by customers such as Windows Live, Microsoft Dynamics, and other Microsoft Online Services for business such as Microsoft Exchange Online and SharePoint Online. The Azure Services Platform lets developers provide their own unique customer offerings by offering the foundational components of compute, storage, and building block services to author and compose applications in the cloud.”
Feel free to browse around Microsoft’s Azure pages to get yourself familiarized more with what it is all about – located here (opens in new tab).