Microsoft cloud solutions

Microsoft Evangelist, Simon May, runs through Microsoft's cloud offerings and how they apply to a business.

What does Microsoft have to offer?

There's a simple way to answer that, Microsoft has "lots" to offer in the cloud, arguably a more complete and coherent set of products than anyone else but then I would say that since I'm a Microsoft employee. From a product viewpoint there's a myriad of offerings like Windows Azure, SQL Azure, Office 365 (currently BPOS), while Windows Intune is the newest addition to the stable of public cloud offerings. And let's not forget to mention Microsoft Dynamics.

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Microsoft also has a full spectrum offering in the private cloud space with Hyper-V Cloud (the combination of Hyper-V 2008 R2, System Center and a Self Service Portal). Throughout the rest of this article I'll outline what we mean by cloud and how we think about it and provide a window into each of these technologies.

What's a cloud?

When you engineer products you can't have some esoteric definition of a cloud, you need some specific characteristics to engineer against and latch onto. For this reason we use this definition of the cloud that provides some solid underpinnings and was created by the US Government National Institute of Standards and Technology. The definition provides us a solid engineering foundation, I suggest a five minute read of the full document but the first paragraph is an interesting read, I've highlighted my favourite terms:

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Cloud computing is a model for enabling convenient, on-demand network access to a shared pool of configurable computing resources (e.g. networks, servers, storage, applications, and services) that can be rapidly provisioned and released with minimal management effort or service provider interaction. This cloud model promotes availability and is composed of five essential characteristics, three service models, and four deployment models.

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If you feel that definition is still a bit woolly then we will expand on it in a moment, but those key words should be set into your mind when thinking about the cloud.

On-Demand = always available

Shared = reduced cost per use

Rapidly provisioned and released = Little management needed to add more capacity for use and to free it up again for someone else to use

Promotes availability = it's available when and where you need it and easy to make use of

Part of the NSIT definition goes into service models too and lists Software as a Service (SaaS), Platform as a Service (PaaS) and Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS) as ways of providing what users need. Again this is a model that Microsoft follows and we've aligned our products and services around these. It's also important to understand the differences between the service models.

SaaS is a finished bit of software that an end user can just use. This is where Office 365 with its cloud based email and collaboration workloads sits and where other email services sit. We're very used to consumer facing SaaS solutions with Hotmail being a prime example. Windows Intune and Microsoft Dynamics are our other public cloud based SaaS solutions, highly scalable, available, on demand applications.

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PaaS is the foundation for building applications in the cloud and it's where Windows Azure and SQL Azure sit. The function of any platform is to provide a solid base upon which anything can be built but you don't necessarily need to know how its underpinnings work. For example to write a Windows application you don't necessarily have to know the ins and outs of memory management. With Windows Azure you don't need to know that the platform manages a whole load of network components, servers and racks to get the job done. Simply put, platforms provide a level of abstraction.

IaaS is most akin to what we've seen for some time with virtualisation. A lift and shift of workloads into an implementation that has the characteristics of a cloud. It provides a simple slip road to the cloud but without the abstraction level of a platform, so it's still necessary to build a solution around the infrastructure itself. One of the major signposts that should make you aware that something is an IaaS solution is if you need to place management around the solution to provide the characteristics of a cloud. This is where Hyper-V Cloud lives.

Now that we've framed the general idea of a cloud lets look at Microsoft's products.

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