Windows Azure Gets Open Source Improvements

Open-source interoperability improvements, expanded database capacity, and simplified pricing part of update.

Microsoft's fourth-quarter service release of Windows Azure is loaded with open-source interoperability improvements, expanded database capacity, and "simplified pricing."

On the open source interoperability 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, a driver for Open Database Connectivity (ODBC), a plug-in for Excel for Hadoop's Hive data query layer, as well as accelerated deployment (measured in hours rather than days). The Windows Azure preview running Hadoop is only available tto "select Microsoft customers" based on their data use. Applicants have to complete a form at the Microsoft Connect portal to be considered.

Microsoft added a software development kit (SDK) for Node.js that is licensed under the "Apache 2 open source license," according to Microsoft's announcement. Node.js uses Google's V8 JavaScript engine and 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," new premade scripts for Java servers, and an emulator that displays JavaScript execution steps.

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

Microsoft also released coding tools and configuration guidelines for developers 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 -- the database management part of the Windows Azure service -- has been expanded. Previously, SQL Azure storage's upper limit was 50 GB. The SQL Azure database maximum size has now been expanded to 150 GB. 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 America and Europe 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. 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.

Microsoft released a Windows Azure Prescriptive Guidance document that provides best practices for developers working with Windows Azure and trying to ensure that their applications will be optimized for the cloud.

About the Author

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

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