Developers Get Glimpse of .NET Framework in the Cloud

Microsoft will offer multiple options for on-premise and online clients, applications, and services

Developers got an indication of Microsoft's unfolding cloud platform strategy at this week's VSLive! conference in New York. Several conference sessions outlined the company's plans for Software plus Services (S+S) and platforms-as-a-service, which offer hosted development and runtimes.

Keith Pijanowski, Microsoft strategy platform advisor, outlined the high-level architecture strategy in a session entitled "Navigating the Software Plus Services Landscape." According to Pijanowski, Microsoft expects "software in your data center" such as messaging, contact relationship management (CRM), and document management, essentially app utilities that do not differentiate your business from the competition to follow "content" (mail, publications, voice, music, and video) into the cloud. Unlike Software as a Service (SaaS), Microsoft will offer multiple options for on-premise and online clients, applications, and services.

S+S is going to create new sellers and, somewhere, there's going to be an old seller that is not doing so well. "At Microsoft we are hoping that we can be that old seller that turns into that new seller," Pijanowski said.

To that end, Microsoft is planning to offer both standard and dedicated versions of Exchange Online, SharePoint Online, Office Communications, Dynamics CRM Online, and Office Live Meeting. Today, Microsoft offers dedicated Exchange and SharePoint services. Standard services, which employ a multitenant architecture, are expected to roll out in the next few months, according to Pijanowski.

Also planned are "attached services," which provide higher-level functionality for S+S application environments. Malware protection, retention requirements, advanced encryption, and emergency access -- currently available only for Exchange Online -- will all be delivered via attached services. Pijanowski said attached services may offer a development opportunity for end users and ISVs once the model matures, particularly in vertical industries.

"What's nice about attached services is that they can act from afar," Pijanowski said. End users don't have to worry about installation or configuration issues.

Custom Services and .NET
In Microsoft's view, developers will need to integrate their hosted utility apps with custom line of business apps and Web services, which will require dev platforms for integration in the cloud, federated identity (single sign-on) and data storage.

A key component of Redmond's S+S strategy is BizTalk Services, a project described as the "enterprise service bus" for the cloud platform during an "Introduction to BizTalk Services" session led by Microsoft Regional Director Vishwas Lele, the chief technology officer at Applied Information Sciences.

BizTalk Services, which is available for testing, falls into the category of platform-as-a-service, according to Lele, because it offers hosted development and runtime. Developed to help companies integrate their apps beyond the enterprise, BizTalk Services supports messaging (Windows Communication Foundation), identity (Windows CardSpace), and workflow (Windows Workflow Foundation). The BizTalk Labs SDK offers .NET extensions for HTTP and RSS.

The first offering from Microsoft in the platform-as-a-service category is SQL Server Data Services. Announced in March, SQL Server Data Services is a relational data storage platform based on SQL Server that is currently available as a community technology preview.

SQL Server Data Services is Microsoft's entry into data storage in the cloud, a burgeoning market in which Amazon has seen exponential growth since it introduced its Amazon Simple Storage Service (Amazon S3) in March 2006. Mike Culver, a former Microsoft technology evangelist who now heads the Developer Relations Group for Amazon Web Services, compared the rise of utilities for computing to an electric utility model where you only pay for what you use, when you use it.

"The reason we were able to get traction right away is because people understand and they know that Amazon knows how to run a high-class data center," Culver said during his session on "Scaling ASP.NET with Cloud-Based Content Delivery," in which he described the Amazon S3 architecture as somewhat similar to RAID.

In addition to providing further details on BizTalk Services and SQL Server Data Services, Microsoft is expected next month to outline its new technology for federated identity. The company's Federated Identity labs project should be addressed at the Professional Developers Conference (PDC) in October. "We have really interesting capabilities coming out in the next few months," Pijanowski said.

Third-party service providers will also play a key role in Microsoft S+S strategy. The service providers buy the hardware, license the software, and offer configuration and tech support to end users for a monthly subscription fee. According to Pijanowski, Microsoft will make several partner announcements at PDC.

Today, end users can access their online apps and data from servers in Microsoft's facilities or partners' data centers. Microsoft's decision to host Exchange Online and SharePoint Online earlier this year angered many resellers. The company has a data center in Quincy, Wash., and new facilities underway in San Antonio, Texas; Chicago, Ill.; and West Des Moines, Iowa. It has also announced plans in March to invest about $500 million to build a data center in Dublin, Ireland.

Microsoft's plans for its cloud platform will take center stage at PDC next month. In addition to the official unveiling of the new cloud platform, developers can expect more details about a new programming language for the Oslo software modeling framework, as well as a fleshed-out strategy for Live Mesh, Microsoft Chief Software Architect Ray Ozzie's vision for data synchronization for consumer devices and PCs in the cloud.

"This is what keeps Steve Ballmer up at night," Pijanowski said. "He doesn't want to be the old seller."

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