Windows Azure allows you to write code in languages within the .NET stack, you can use Java, C++, PHP, NodeJS and others. Code is code - other than keeping things stateless, using a Web or Worker Role in Azure is not all that different from working with an on-premises system.
Working in a scalable, component-based stateless architecture that can use federated security is not all that common for many developers. Some are used to owning the server, scaling up, and state-full paradigms that have a single security domain. Making the transition whilst trying to create a new software application or even port a previous one can be daunting. Sure, we have absolutely tons of free training, kits, videos, online books and more to learn on your own, but some things like architecture can be pivotal as you move along.
So the question is, should you just strike out on your own for a Cloud project, or get Microsoft Consulting Services or another partner to work with you on your first one? I use a few decision points to help guide the projects I assist in.
Note: I’m a huge fan of having help that ends up giving you training and leaves you in charge. If you do engage with someone to help you, make sure you keep this clear and take more and more ownership yourself as the project progresses.
How much time do you have?
Usually the first thing I ask is about the timeline for the project. It doesn’t matter how skilled you are, if you have a short window to get things done it’s better to get help - especially if this is your first cloud project. Having someone that knows the platform well can save you amazing amounts of time. If you have longer, then start with the training in the link above and once you feel confident, jump in.
How complex is the project?
If there are a lot of moving parts, it’s best to engage a partner. The reason is that certain interactions - particularly things like Service Bus or Data Integration - can be quite different than what you may have encountered before.
How many people do you have?
I have a “pizza rule” about projects I’ve used in my career - if it takes over two pizzas to feed everyone on the project, it’s too big and will fail. That being said, one developer and a one-week deadline does not a good project make, usually. It’s best to have at least one architect (or someone in that role) guiding the project along, and at least two developers to work on a cloud project. That’s a generalization of course, since I’ve seen great software on Azure with one developer writing code all by herself, but for more complex projects, more (to a point) is better. The nice thing about bringing on a partner is that you don’t have to hire them full time - they help you and then they go away.
How critical is the project?
There’s no shame in using some help. If the platform is new, if the project is large and complex, and if it is critical to the business, you should engage a partner. That’s regardless of Cloud or anything else - get some help. You don’t want to hit your company’s bottom line in a negative way, but you have to innovate and get them a competitive advantage. Do your research, make sure the partner is qualified to help you, and get it done.
Don’t let these questions scare you off. There are lots of projects you can implement on Windows and SQL Azure with nothing other than the Software Development Kit (SDK) that you get for free with Windows Azure. And assistance comes in many forms - sometimes just phone support, a friend you can ask. Microsoft Consulting Services or any of our great partners. You can get help on just the architecture piece or have them show you how to write the code. They’ll get involved as little or as much as you like.