Windows Azure is a platform that has you covered, whether you need to write software, run software that is already written, or Install and use “canned” software whether you or someone else wrote it. Like any platform, it’s a set of tools you can use where it makes sense to solve a problem.
You can click on the graphic below for a larger picture of these components, or download a poster with more details here.
The primary location for Windows Azure information is located at http://windowsazure.com. You can find everything there from the development kits for writing software to pricing, licensing and tutorials on all of that.
I have a few links here for learning to use Windows Azure – although it’s best if you focus not on the tools, but what you want to solve. I’ve got it broken down here into various sections, so you can quickly locate things you want to know. I’ll include resources here from Microsoft and elsewhere – I use these same resources in the Architectural Design Sessions (ADS) I do with my clients worldwide.
There is also a great video series on Cloud Fundamentals here, if you have some time to watch them. It's a great series that covers a lot of ground. And there's a great free book for IT Professionals on Windows Azure here.
Also called “Platform as a Service” (PaaS), Windows Azure has lots of components you can use together or separately that allow you to write software in .NET or various Open Source languages to work completely online, or in partnership with code you have on-premises or both – even if you’re using other cloud providers. Keep in mind that all of the features you see here can be used together, or independently. For instance, you might only use a Web Site, or use Storage, but you can use both together. You can access all of these components through standard REST API calls, or using our Software Development Kit’s API’s, which are a lot easier. In any case, you simply use Visual Studio, Eclipse, Cloud9 IDE, or even a text editor to write your code from a Mac, PC or Linux.
Azure Web Sites: Windows Azure Web Sites allow you to quickly write an deploy websites, without setting a Virtual Machine, installing a web server or configuring complex settings. They work alone, with other Windows Azure Web Sites, or with other parts of Windows Azure. Read more about deciding to use Web Sites or Roles.
Web and Worker Roles: Windows Azure Web Roles give you a full stateless computing instance with Internet Information Services (IIS) installed and configured. Windows Azure Worker Roles give you a full stateless computing instance without Information Services (IIS) installed, often used in a "Services" mode. Scale-out is achieved either manually or programmatically under your control.
Storage: Windows Azure Storage types include Blobs to store raw binary data, Tables to use key/value pair data (like NoSQL data structures), Queues that allow interaction between stateless roles, and a relational SQL Server database.
Other Services: Windows Azure has many other services such as a security mechanism, a Cache (memcacheD compliant), a Service Bus, a Traffic Manager and more. Once again, these features can be used with a Windows Azure project, or alone based on your needs.
Windows Azure Mobile Services: A simple framework service which enables you to quickly develop the back-end for mobile services. For the front-end, check out the iOS SDK, news about the Android SDK, and the Windows Phone SDK.
Various Languages: Windows Azure supports the .NET stack of languages, as well as many Open-Source languages like Java, Python, PHP, Ruby, NodeJS, C++ and more.
Also called “Software as a Service” (SaaS) this often means consumer or business-level software like Hotmail or Office 365. In other words, you simply log on, use the software, and log off – there’s nothing to install, and little to even configure. For the Information Technology professional, however, It’s not quite the same. We want software that provides services, but in a platform. That means we want things like Hadoop or other software we don’t want to have to install and configure.
Kits: Various software “kits” or packages are supported with just a few clicks, such as Umbraco, WordPress, and others.
Windows Azure Media Services: Windows Azure Media Services is a suite of services that allows you to upload media for encoding, processing and even streaming – or even one or more of those functions. We can add DRM and even commercials to your media if you like. Windows Azure Media Services is used to stream large events all the way down to small training videos.
High Performance Computing and “Big Data”: Windows Azure allows you to scale to huge workloads using a few clicks to deploy Hadoop Clusters or the High Performance Computing (HPC) nodes, accepting HPC Jobs, Pig and Hive Jobs, and even interfacing with Microsoft Excel.
Windows Azure Marketplace: Windows Azure Marketplace offers data and programs you can quickly implement and use – some free, some for-fee.
Also known as “Infrastructure as a Service” (IaaS), this offering allows you to build or simply choose a Virtual Machine to run server-based software.
Persistent Virtual Machines: You can choose to install Windows Server, Windows Server with Active Directory, with SQL Server, or even SharePoint from a pre-configured gallery. You can configure your own server images with standard Hyper-V technology and load them yourselves – and even bring them back when you’re done. As a new offering, we also even allow you to select various distributions of Linux – a first for Microsoft.
Windows Azure Connect: You can connect your on-premises networks to Windows Azure Instances.
Storage: Windows Azure Storage can be used as a remote backup, a hybrid storage location and more using software or even hardware appliances.
With all of these options, you can use Windows Azure to solve just about any computing problem. It’s often hard to know when to use something on-premises, in the cloud, and what kind of service to use.
I’ve used a decision matrix in the last couple of years to take a particular problem and choose the proper technology to solve it. It’s all about options – there is no “silver bullet”, whether that’s Windows Azure or any other set of functions. I take the problem, decide which particular component I want to own and control – and choose the column that has that box darkened. For instance, if I have to control the wiring for a solution (a requirement in some military and government installations), that means the “Networking” component needs to be dark, and so I select the “On Premises” column for that particular solution. If I just need the solution provided and I want no control at all, I can look as “Software as a Service” solutions.
Windows Azure Training Kit: There's a full training kit available for Windows Azure IaaS, PaaS and SaaS.
Microsoft Virtual Academy: Free video-based training.
Windows Azure Documentation: Official documentation for the product.
Security, Pricing, and Other Info
Security: Security is one of the first questions you should ask in any distributed computing environment. We have certification info, coding guidelines and more, even a general “Request for Information” RFI Response already created for you.
Pricing: Are there licenses? How much does this cost? Is there a way to estimate the costs in this new environment?
New Features: Many new features were added to Windows Azure - and you can keep up to date with community information released monthly here: http://blogs.msdn.com/b/davidmcg/
Windows Azure Cookbooks: Great resource for architecture solutions - http://www.notsotrivial.net/blog/category/Architecture.aspx
Hands-On Labs: http://msdn.microsoft.com/en-us/jj618399