Microsoft last week launched its first serious effort to build IT into its cloud plans by introducing technologies that help connect existing corporate networks and cloud services to make them look like a single infrastructure.
The concept began to come together at Microsoft's Professional Developers Conference. The company is attempting to show that it wants to move beyond the first wave of the cloud trend, which is defined by the availability of raw computing power supplied by Microsoft and competitors such as Amazon and Google.
Microsoft's goal is to supply tools, middleware and services so users can run applications that span corporate and cloud networks, especially those built with Microsoft's Azure cloud operating system.
"Azure is looking at the second wave," says Ray Valdes, an analyst with Gartner. "That wave is what happens after raw infrastructure. When companies start moving real systems to the cloud and those systems are hybrid and they have to connect back in significant ways to legacy environments. It's a big challenge and a big opportunity for Microsoft."
To attack the opportunity, Microsoft introduced projects called Sydney, AppFabric, Next Generation Active Directory, System Center "Cloud", and updates to the .Net Framework that provide bridges between corporate networks and cloud services. While a small portion of the software is available now, the majority will hit beta cycles in 2010.
The message Microsoft pushed to IT developers and infrastructure architects was that its software-plus-services strategy recognizes corporate needs. The pressing questions, however, will center on just what kind of effort it takes to deploy, manage and maintain applications across domains.
"We are testing Azure and how it integrates with our corporate network, but we are in the very early stages and we have questions. We'll look at and test some of these tools when they are available," said one IT architect from a financial services firm who ask that he not be identified.
Microsoft says it has heard IT's feedback since it introduced Azure at last year's PDC and it is aware of corporate constraints and concerns.
"Everybody is not going to move everything they have running in IT to the cloud. People have data sets, they have privacy issues, competitive issues and for whatever reason people will keep things in the data center," said Amitabh Srivastava, the senior vice president at Microsoft responsible for Windows Azure.
In 2006, Srivastava and Dave Cutler started Microsoft's cloud operating system project under the code name Red Dog, which became Azure. "A lot of apps are going to be split between cloud and IT and you want to have bridging technologies so we are going to provide services, tools or various ways to partition your applications in any way you want," Srivastava added.
To do that they will need tools such as Project Sydney, which was introduced as a concept at PDC. Sydney creates a sort of virtual network that ties together pieces of an application or processes running in various places so they all looks like one logical system.
"We want to provide this network overlay otherwise it is going to be a nightmare because you have to manage security [in many places], you have this policy and that policy, so if you have the overlay it can be thought of as one network," Srivastav said.
Microsoft showed a demo of Sydney as part of an internal auction application that incorporates a database running on-premises at Microsoft and a front end hosted in the cloud, where the performance is supplied to handle the churn of auction bids before depositing the final result in the internal database.
Another key piece introduced is the AppFabric, an application server layer that spans the cloud and internal servers so developers have a single, consistent environment for .Net applications. The AppFabric combines hosting and caching technologies formerly code-named Dublin and Velocity. Beta 1 for Windows Server 2008 R2 was released last week and a beta for Azure will come in 2010.
In addition, Microsoft gave two .Net Services components the AppFabric name: the AppFabric Service Bus, which provides an IPv6 and IPSEC pipe between internal networks and the cloud; and AppFabric Access Control, which supports identities federation so access controls can be shared across components no matter where they run.
In addition, Ray Ozzie, chief software architect, said that Visual Studio 2010 will include templates that allow movement of cloud applications between hosted and internal networks.
Microsoft also introduced a tool with Visual Studio called VM Roles that will let users put legacy applications in the cloud using virtual machines. While those applications won't be able to take advantage of some cloud features, VM Roles will help corporate users move some workloads to the cloud so they can focus resources on mission-critical applications.
Also, Bob Muglia, president of the server and tools business at Microsoft, said a cloud version of System Center management tools would go into beta in 2010. They will provide a unified console for managing on-premises and cloud assets in the same way.
Microsoft said the platform would span operating systems (Windows and Azure), relational databases (SQL Server and SQL Azure) application services (AppFabric), programming models (.Net), and applications (including both internal and cloud versions of Exchange, SharePoint and Dynamics).
Another piece of the puzzle focused on directory technology and Microsoft's claims-based identity system. Microsoft introduced Next Generation Active Directory (NGAD), which is built on a database that provides powerful querying and performance gains.
NGAD is a "clip-on" for AD, not a replacement. It gives IT the ability to deploy numerous NGAD instances to provide claims-based access controls that support exclusively cloud applications or services.
NGAD is populated with data from current Active Directory deployments and shields the main directory from schema changes NGAD requires and from the usage spikes NGAD will handle.
At PDC, Microsoft also released to manufacturing Windows Identity Foundation (WIF), formerly called the Geneva Framework, which helps developers build applications that incorporate a claims-based identity model for authentication/authorisation. WIF is part of the .Net Framework programming model that stretch across enterprise and cloud.
In all, the bridging technologies that Microsoft introduced are only a handful of what is likely needed to connect internal IT systems with the cloud and do it in a secure and managed way that will support mission critical applications.
"The full dimensions of the problems will develop over time as organizations step into the cloud," Gartner's Valdes said. "When that happens then unanticipated problems will surface, but for the moment, I think Microsoft is actually looking pretty far ahead to the needs of its clients in the cloud arena."