Need to Know: Windows Azure

After a lot of talk, by the end of the year Windows Azure will become a reality - with a potentially great impact on enterprise. We explain what it is and why it’s important.

Well, you should be able to see websites work better - that ticketing site hopefully won't crash under the demand that everyone knew would be happening months in advance.

It could even revolutionise our airport experience. Easyjet has a project that will help it eliminate long queues at check-in desks by offering all the services you need when you get to the airport, such as bag checking, paying for overweight bags, and printing boarding passes, all from portable terminals. Windows Azure is the technology that can make this happen, by synchronising all data across the cloud.

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Is Azure reliable?

Microsoft knows companies won't use the technology if it isn't reliable so is offering service level agreements with penalties kicking in if it offers less than 99.99 per cent uptime.

As an example, a company called AWS is using Azure to underpin a worldwide system saving the lives of fishermen if they fall overboard, using satellites but it also has a contingency plan if the entire Azure platform goes down. A sensible approach, at least initially.

Are there security implications?

There are inevitably going to be concerns running applications over the internet and companies will want to know if bad code in data centres can affect their other applications. To reassure users, Microsoft has said that all data on Azure is backed up in three locations.

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Are there any other downsides?

The most immediate threat is to IT managers. If there are fewer - or no - local data centres to manage, then there is far less need for these IT managers. They will clearly suffer is there's a paradigm shift in how data is managed in the enterprise.

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Who are the main competitors?

Amazon pioneered cloud computing with its Elastic Compute Cloud (Amazon EC2).

Google, not surprisingly has an offering, called Google App Engine and SalesForce.com wants your business, too .

How important is Azure to Microsoft?

Some say that this is its most important endeavour if it wants to keep relevant in the internet age. There's no doubt that Windows 7 is critical for them, but it could be seen as the last hurrah for a purely client based operating system.

Want to read more background on the latest IT topics? Click here for all the tech cheatsheets in our Need to Know series.

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