Azure consists of both an operating system and a set of services. Windows Azure is our operating system in the cloud which enables you to build applications and services hosted in Microsoft data centres. In addition it provides management capabilities that allow you to monitor, trace and most importantly scale applications seamlessly as demand grows.
There are a number of clear benefits to this model:
- The ability to easily and seamlessly scale your application as demand grows
- Use existing skills - Windows Azure supports VS2008, .NET and ASP.NET applications and will evolve to support both Microsoft and non-Microsoft languages and environments
- Reduce risk as your application can be hosted across multiple data centres
- Reduce latency as your application is hosted in geographically distributed data centres
- Scale your costs as demand grows. You're not faced with the obstacle of significant up-front capital investment
Windows Azure was first introduced in the Day 1 Keynote at PDC 2008 and was formerly knows by the codename Red Dog (hence the crazy shoes you'll see in the keynote). There's lots more information available on the Windows Azure pages on Microsoft.com.
What's really exciting is that the UK is leading the way on many of these new technologies with Microsoft UK and local partners building leading edge applications using Windows Azure and other new technologies announced at PDC. Two examples are the social networking application Bluehoo from Sentient (in conjunction with Vertigo who built the Silverlight UI) and the MOB Guardian work done by AWS for the RNLI (Royal National Lifeboat Institution) which took part of an existing life-saving application and moved it to the cloud. Both these projects were undertaken with support from people in Microsoft UK. In fact my colleague Neil Kidd was part of the MOB Guardian work and has some interesting entries on his blog. He'll also be delivering a session on building cloud applications at TechEd EMEA (PDC309 - Real life experiences : Building your first Services Application).
Windows Azure is currently available in CTP (Community Technology Preview) form. To get started with Windows Azure you'll need at least the Windows Azure SDK and I would also recommend the Windows Azure Tools for Microsoft Visual Studio. To deploy your applications to Windows Azure you'll need to register and there's likely to be a waiting list so it may take some time to get approval. There is also a collection of useful resources on the Azure site.
Finally, there is the excellent White Paper by David Chappell which looks at the whole Azure services platform as well as Windows Azure.