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Windows Azure Updated With Open Source Improvements

Microsoft rolled out its fourth-quarter service release of Windows Azure on Saturday.

The new release is packed with open source interoperability improvements, expanded database capacity and so-called "simplified pricing." In addition to news about Windows Azure, Microsoft will present an all-day streaming educational session on Windows Azure on Tuesday.

The Tuesday Microsoft Channel 9 event, extending from 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. Pacific Time, will feature prominent Microsoft experts, such as Scott Guthrie, Dave Campbell, and Mark Russinovich. The sign up page to watch the presentations on December 13 can be accessed here.

Open Source Interoperability
On the open source interop front, the community technology preview of Hadoop on Windows Azure, promised back in October at PASS, is now available for limited testing. The preview includes Hadoop JavaScript libraries, an Open Database Connectivity (ODBC) driver, an Excel plug-in for Hadoop's Hive data query layer, plus the promise of speeded-up deployment (measured in hours rather than days). This Windows Azure preview running Hadoop is limited to "select Microsoft customers" based on their data use scenarios. Applicants have to fill out a form at the Microsoft Connect portal to get considered.

Microsoft added a software development kit (SDK) for Node.js that's licensed under the "Apache 2 open source license," according to Microsoft's announcement. Node.js, which uses Google's V8 JavaScript engine, lets users write JavaScript applications that execute on the server side. The SDK can be accessed from GitHub.

A plug-in for JavaScript developers using the Eclipse integrated development environment has been added to work with Windows Azure. There were 10 improvements added in the Dec. 10, 2011 release of Windows Azure, including support for "sticky sessions," the addition of premade scripts for Java servers and an emulator that displays JavaScript execution steps, among others.

Microsoft has been collaborating with 10Gen, a company that develops the open source MongoDB database. MongoDB now runs on Windows Azure with this latest platform release. MongoDB can be used with Node.js, and both solutions can be easily installed on Windows Azure, according Gianugo Rabellino, Microsoft's senior director of open source communities, who described all of the Windows Azure open source highlights.

Finally, Microsoft released coding tools and configuration guidelines for those testing Solr on Windows Azure. Solr is a Java-based "open source enterprise search platform" supported by the Apache Lucene project, according to the project's description. It's used by various Internet sites to support advanced search and navigation.

Scalability and Pricing
The maximum database size of SQL Azure, which is the database management part of the Windows Azure service, has been expanded. Previously, SQL Azure storage was available at 50 GB maximum. The SQL Azure database size has now been expanded to 150 GB max. Access to the 150 GB database is available via Microsoft's Business Edition SQL Azure subscription at a maximum charge of $499.99 per database, according to Microsoft's pricing page. Microsoft claims that users get three times the database at no extra cost with this expanded capacity.

The SQL Azure "service bus" use will be free of charge through March 2012 as a promotional offer. However, on April 1, 2012, Microsoft will start billing service bus charges based on relay hours and message operations; it will drop its billing based on connections.

Microsoft reduced its "data transfer" prices by as much as 25 percent in North American and European markets with this release of SQL Azure. The new prices are $0.12 per GB and $0.19 per GB, respectively.

The pricing structure for Windows Azure remains rather complex ever since its introduction in July 2009. Essentially, organizations using Windows Azure pay for the compute time, data storage and data access, plus the bandwidth of the data transferred in and out of the cloud. The various cloud computing phases get priced at specific rates, usually per GB. There's also a monthly fee rolled into the overall cost if an organization uses SQL Azure.

This Windows Azure release supposedly offers greater simplicity for users in carrying out subscription management. Billing details can be monitored via an improved Windows Azure management portal, which contains a "simplified pricing calculator," according to the announcement. Microsoft claims that spending caps will be set during a new sign-up process for the free 90-day trial of Windows Azure. The new sign-up process will really keep the trial free of charge, the company claims.

Microsoft added SQL Azure federation with this service release. It enables horizontal partitioning in a database, or "sharding," which happens when "one or more tables within a database are split by row and portioned across multiple databases (Federation members)," according to an MSDN library description. This federation capability helps in designing databases that will scale with application workloads, according to Microsoft's announcement. SQL Azure federation can be used in open source implementations because the technology is covered under Microsoft's open specification promise, according to this Microsoft blog. However, royalties may be involved if the capability is used in commercial software.

Veteran Microsoft observer, Mary Jo Foley, pointed to some missing items. She noted that VM role support, Server App-V support and a final version of SQL Azure Reporting Services had been promised for the next Windows Azure release but weren't included this time.

Also, on Friday, Microsoft released a "Windows Azure Prescriptive Guidance" document. The document is designed to provide best practices for those working with Windows Azure and trying to ensure that their applications will be optimized for the cloud. It's designed for "overwhelmed and intimidated" by working with a cloud platform, according to this Microsoft blog.

About the Author

Kurt Mackie is senior news producer for the 1105 Enterprise Computing Group.

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