In-Depth

Using Azure To Virtualize Public and Private Clouds

Windows Azure is about to get a facelift. New IaaS capabilities promise VM portability.

IaaS clouds are just the thing for those looking to move Windows and Linux virtual machine (VM) instances to the cloud. That has helped Amazon Web Services LLC build an estimated $1 billion business and fueled the growth of key IaaS providers including Rackspace, GoGrid LLC, Joyent Inc., AT&T and Verizon/Terremark. It promises to do the same for recent entries such as HP and Google.

Microsoft is getting ready to enter the mix with a re-launch of its Windows Azure cloud service. More than two years after rolling out Windows Azure PaaS, Microsoft has added long-awaited portability of VMs from Windows Server to Windows Azure. The new Windows Azure VM comes with another surprise: support for Linux VMs. The move effectively transforms Windows Azure into a full-fledged IaaS provider.

At a launch event for the broadly expanded Microsoft cloud infrastructure in June, corporate VP Scott Guthrie demonstrated the new Windows Azure portal, which provides IT pros and developers a unified view of all of the services and apps that can run in the cloud environment. Customers can drill into different services, VMs, and storage and view stats.

Moving VMs ‘Just Works'
This is important, Guthrie explained, because enterprise customers for the first time can shift workloads from their Windows and Linux environments to Windows Azure. Guthrie pointed out that all of the VMs in the new Microsoft cloud will support the virtual hard drive, or VHD, file format.

"Because we're running the same file format, it's really easy for you to take a VM -- whether it started off in your own datacenter -- and upgrade it into Windows Azure," Guthrie said. "You don't have to run an import-export process. You simply upload it and enable it within Windows Azure and it works. There's no conversion tools or agent you need to install the VM. It just works."

Microsoft has also added a VPN solution aimed at simplifying the connectivity between Windows Azure, enterprise datacenters and other cloud providers. "What's nice about our virtual private networking solution is you can integrate it with pretty much any back-end network provider," Guthrie said. "We don't require you to install any custom software on your existing enterprise network or datacenter. Instead, we integrate with existing VPN hardware and software and interoperate well with Windows Azure."

Eric Boyd, founder and CEO of Chicago-based technology consulting firm responsiveX, says the new Windows Azure will be critical in bridging datacenter applications to the public cloud. Hybrid clouds are possible today with the current Microsoft service via Windows Azure Connect, Boyd points out, by allowing organizations to build a VPN tunnel between on-premises servers and Windows Azure. However, Windows Azure Connect does so via machine-to-machine connections.

"Now Windows Azure Virtual Network will allow us to do it at the network and router level instead of requiring machine-to-machine agents," he says. "It makes configuration so much easier because it's at the network stack and not at the server level."

About the Author

Jeffrey Schwartz is editor of Redmond magazine and also covers cloud computing for Virtualization Review's Cloud Report. In addition, he writes the Channeling the Cloud column for Redmond Channel Partner. Follow him on Twitter @JeffreySchwartz.

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