Interesting changes in Windows Azure services

by Shijaz Abdulla on 03.06.2013 at 22:07

Here are some interesting changes to the Windows Azure services as of June 3, 2013:

  1. The following services to be billed by the minute versus being billed by the hour:
    a. VMs, Web Roles and Worker Roles
    b. SQL Server and BizTalk Server running in Virtual Machines (no longer rounding to the nearest hour and no minimums).

    Windows Azure is the only cloud provider today that bills you by the minute!

  2. The billing will stop for stopped VMs. No need to delete instances to manage and reduce compute costs.
  3. Reduced rates for MSDN subscribers when they use Windows Azure VMs.
  4. Public Endpoint Access Control Lists (ACLs) for VMs
  5. More Gateway Device Options when setting up Windows Azure Virtual Network: Citrix, F5 and WatchGuard.
  6. Windows Server 2012 R2 will be available after preview (also to be added to Virtual Machines Image Gallery, as a pre-built image).
  7. SQL Server AlwaysOn will be demo’ed during TechEd- to be generally available later this year for Virtual Machines. 

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Windows Azure Infrastructure-as-a-Service (IaaS) General Availability (GA)!

by Shijaz Abdulla on 16.04.2013 at 19:23

Windows Azure Infrastructure-as-a-Service (IaaS) offering hit general availability worldwide today.

Furthermore, to eliminate price as a discussion when comparing to the competition, namely Amazon, we made a new pledge to our valued customers. Quite simply, we will match AWS prices for commodity services such as compute, storage and bandwidth. We may charge less, but never more.

“If you had concerns that Windows Azure was more expensive, we’re putting those concerns to rest today.”

Steven Martin, Operations GM – Azure

The reason is simple. We want to remove price as part of the equation. We’d rather compete on the services we provide and the complete vision of the Microsoft Cloud OS which provides rich:

  • Infrastructure services
  • Platform services
  • Hybrid scenarios (move VMs from your datacenter to Windows Azure and back. Use common technologies across private & public clouds (Active Directory for identity, System Center for Management, Hyper-V for virtualization, .NET for development)

Furthermore, based on customer input, we are also announcing two new higher capacity virtual machines:

  1. A four virtual processor VM with 28 GB of memory
  2. An eight virtual processor VM with 56 gigabytes of memory!

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These configurations enable workloads with increasing compute demands.

Oh, and BTW, yes, Azure IaaS runs 100% on Windows Server 2012 Hyper-V.

Finally, it should be noted just how fast Azure is growing. Bill Hilf is quoted as saying that Azure is growing at the rate of 1,000 customers A DAY and today supports over 200,000 active customers.

State of Cloud Storage in 2013: The Nasuni Report

by Shijaz Abdulla on 28.03.2013 at 20:51

Nasuni announced the 2013 State of Cloud Storage Report, available for download on their website. Functionality, Price and Performance are key metrics when they evaluate Cloud Storage Providers.

Windows Azure emerged as a leader in all metrics evaluated. Here are some highlights:

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EVENT: BI and the Public Cloud

by Shijaz Abdulla on 22.01.2013 at 13:38

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The popularity and usage of mobile devices, from smartphones to tablets and PCs, is building a significant trail of data from users, leading to an exponential growth and variety of data, globally. This is Big Data, one of today’s hottest trends – produced, fuelled and enabled by the Cloud, Mobile and Social trends.
The Cloud, especially, can play a major role in providing the storage and computing capacity to deal with all of this data, empowering enterprises like yours to provide real business intelligence, through the platforms that are already deployed.

Join us as we see how information leaders like yourselves can use the Cloud on your terms and provide real value and collaboration through business intelligence.

When: February 5, 2013

Where: Hilton Hotel, Doha

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What is a cloud? (and why should I care)

by Shijaz Abdulla on 06.01.2011 at 22:57

The ‘cloud’ is definitely an often used (and misused) buzz word in today’s technology industry. So what exactly is a cloud? What is a cloud made of? Is it any different from hosting? These are some of the matters that I will address in this post.

So what is a cloud?

Wikipedia defines Cloud Computing as “internet-based computing, whereby shared servers provide resources, software, and data to computers and other devices on demand, as with the electricity grid. Cloud computing is a natural evolution of the widespread adoption of virtualization, service-oriented architecture and utility computing. Details are abstracted from consumers, who no longer have need for expertise in, or control over, the technology infrastructure “in the cloud” that supports them.” (retrieved Jan 6, 2011)

Let’s take a closer look and break it down a bit.

“…shared servers provide resources…”

So the cloud is made of shared servers working together in a manner that results in the abstraction of the underlying infrastructure from the user or the consumer.

“…on demand…”

The cloud is elastic, which means, it can scale to any extent to help you manage utilization “spikes”, just like an electricity grid. If your business application or website suddenly requires more resources or above normal utilization due to that marketing campaign you just launched, the cloud will be able to provision and make available resources to you “on the fly” during your time of need and then “de-provision” these resources when utilization is back to normal. Because the cloud abstracts the underlying infrastructure, this entire process is invisible to the consumer.

“…a natural evolution of the widespread adoption of virtualization, service-oriented architecture and utility computing.”

By now, you would have realized it. If you need shared servers working together, abstracted from the user, dynamically scalable to any business demand – you need virtualization. But, does simply having the leanest, meanest hypervisor in the market help you implement the cloud? No. It is as important that you have a robust management solution. If your abstracted infrastructure cannot understand how a utilization spike on your application looks like, how will you be able to provide “on demand” services to your users? If your cloud infrastructure does not have visibility on the health of your ‘service’, how can it predict or understand a need to scale up dynamically?

Without doubt, management is an indispensable component of the cloud. I explained this in greater detail in an earlier post.

This is why System Center, with components like Operations Manager, Virtual Machine Manager and Opalis are key players in your journey to hosting your own ‘private’ cloud.

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“Details are abstracted from consumers, who no longer have need for expertise in, or control over, the technology infrastructure ‘in the cloud’ that supports them”

This re-affirms the abstraction of the underlying infrastructure. The business does not need to know what hardware, operating environment or hypervisor you’re running on. All the business cares about is the ‘service’. To be able to ensure availability the ‘service’ at any scale that the business requires dynamically, abstracting everything else is a key characteristic of the cloud.

Hosting vs. Cloud:
So is the cloud what my hosting provider offers me?

Well, it depends. Many hosting providers today state that they bring you the cloud. In reality, some of them actually do, others don’t. The key message here is that mere server hosting is not cloud. Only when the benefits I discussed above are realized, then behold — we have a cloud.

If your “cloud” hosting provider states something like they will give you a ‘dedicated’ HP blade server with 2.5GHz Processor, 4 GB RAM, 80 GB SAN storage, 80 GB backup storage, a dedicated Cisco firewall and a 1 TB monthly traffic included – chances are they have missed the cloud by a mile!

Why? Because they are simply not providing you a cloud – shared servers that provision resources on demand. Instead, they are just giving you a hosted server. There is no elasticity, no dynamic resource provision and no abstraction. In a real cloud, you wouldn’t know what hardware spec you’re running on, simply because it doesn’t remain constantjust as your business doesn’t remain constant.

Interesting. So why should I care about the cloud?

My colleague Michael Mansour lists out top 10 reasons why the cloud is changing the consumer and business landscape. His post is definitely worth a read.

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‘Stop Press’ Humor: Wikipedia also defines ‘cloud’ as a visible mass of water droplets or frozen ice crystals suspended in the atmosphere. Certainly not the cloud we’re talking about!