Microsoft Adds Windows Azure Management Improvements

Microsoft announced a bunch of Windows Azure management improvements on Thursday.

Some of the improvements are still at the "preview" stage, but they're all currently available for use by Windows Azure subscribers or testers. Scott Guthrie, who now serves as Microsoft's Cloud and Enterprise vice president following Satya Nadella's promotion to CEO, outlined the new capabilities in a blog post.

On the management side, Microsoft introduced a new ExpressRoute connectivity option, a new backup-and-restore option for Windows Azure Web sites, multiple management improvements, as well as BizTalk Services advances and Hadoop 2.2 preview support. Also included were .NET Framework improvements for developers, as described in this Visual Studio Magazine article.

ExpressRoute Preview: ExpressRoute is a new site-to-site virtual machine connectivity option in Windows Azure that establishes a dedicated connection between a private network and Microsoft's Windows Azure datacenters. The option to use ExpressRoute shows up when an IT pro creates a new "virtual network," according to Microsoft's announcement. ExpressRoute bypasses routing via the public Internet and adds quality assurance support. "Using ExpressRoute, you can connect your existing datacenters to Azure without having to flow any traffic over the public Internet, and enable–guaranteed [sic] network quality-of-service and the ability to use Azure as a natural extension of an existing private network or datacenter," Guthrie explained. The ExpressRoute feature is based on support from Microsoft's partnering service companies, including AT&T, Equinix and Level3. The ExpressRoute preview can be accessed at this page. Potential charges to use the service, when rolled out, weren't specified in Microsoft's announcement.

Web Sites Backup and Restore Preview: Organizations using Windows Azure for Web applications can now save snapshots of the app services for backup purposes. Backups can either be performed manually or they can be set to take place at specific times. The snapshots include any SQL or MySQL databases associated with the Web apps. This backup and restore feature is free for all Windows Azure Web Sites customers using the "Standard Tier" plan.

Expanded Coadministrator Support: Each Windows Azure subscription now supports the inclusion of up to 200 coadministrators per account, up from 10 persons.

Service Outage Notifications: The Windows Azure Management Portal now includes service outage and incident reporting that is customized to the particular services used. It provides alerts about service interruptions, performance degradations and other advisories. The alerts currently are tailored for Windows Azure services such as "Virtual Machines, Cloud Services, Storage, SQL Databases, Service Bus and Web Sites," but Microsoft plans to expand on that list. Users also can get histories of past service incidents now via an "operations logs" page in the management portal.

VM Agent: Microsoft added a new VM Agent to the Windows Azure service to help manage virtual machine extensions. The agent gets added automatically from the "quick create" display in the management portal when adding a virtual machine. Extensions are designed to enhance the functionality of a virtual machine. Microsoft this week released a "background info" ("BGInfo") extension that shows information about a virtual machine accessed through Microsoft's Remote Desktop Protocol. More extensions will be coming in "the next several months," according to Microsoft's announcement.

Single Sign-On Support for SaaS Apps: Windows Azure Active Directory now supports more than 600 software-as-a-service (SaaS) apps for preintegrated single sign-on capability. That figure is up from the 227 SaaS apps that were supported at the rollout of this free feature back in October. Users can access from a gallery SaaS apps, such as, Dropbox and Gmail, and get built-in single sign-on capabilities.

WAAD Premium Preview Reporting: Microsoft has a Windows Azure Active Directory Premium preview that was initially released back in November. The premium version has more advanced capabilities compared with the free Windows Azure Active Directory offering. This week, Microsoft indicated it added a "reports" tab in the premium version that shows suspicious log-ins and "irregular sign-in activity," along with potentially compromised account names. The premium version is free to use right now, but Microsoft plans to charge for it in the future.

BizTalk Services Updates: Microsoft added new features to its enterprise service bus solution. BizTalk Services now supports the EDIFACT protocol and it can pull messages from service bus queues without writing to another service. Shared access signature keys can be used in the Azure portal or Visual Studio for configuring "Service Bus Queues and Topics with Agreements and Bridges." It's also no longer necessary to have SQL Express on premises to use BizTalk adapter services.

Hadoop 2.2 Preview: Microsoft announced earlier this month that its Windows Azure HDInsight service now supports Hadoop 2.2 at the preview level. The benefits of using Hadoop 2.2 include faster query response times, improved data compression and YARN support. Microsoft's partner on Hadoop, Hortonworks, describes YARN as being the "operating system" for Hadoop 2.0 big data-type systems. YARN works in that way because it separates the MapReduce processing engine of Hadoop from its resource management tasks.

About the Author

Kurt Mackie is senior news producer for 1105 Media's Converge360 group.


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