Chris Alexander

On Engineering

Windows Azure Series: What Is Cloud Computing?

22nd February, 2010

Windows Azure Series

Welcome to the first in a series of posts on Windows Azure, Microsoft’s cloud computing platform. We’ll be discussing all the main features of Azure in the series.

Windows Azure, Microsoft’s cloud computing platform, has just matured into a production service that anyone can now work with and build applications.

But what exactly is a “cloud computing platform”?

Along with Amazon’s AWS (Amazon Web Services), Azure gives web developers the opportunity to rapidly scale their application without having to worry about the hardware behind it.

Cloud services represent a paradigm shift from the “old days” of hosting your own website on your own (or managed) webservers to letting someone else worry about all of that for you.

[Cloud computing] is a paradigm shift whereby details are abstracted from the users who no longer have need of, expertise in, or control over the technology infrastructure “in the cloud” that supports them. - Wikipedia

What Azure can essentially offer is that Microsoft will manage all of your servers, the storage, keeping it all online and your data all backed up for you. All you have to do is worry about building a reliable application that can be then deployed to the “Azure fabric” (more on that later).

This means you can do really cool things, like only pay for the processing power that you need at a given time period.

For example, if your website suddenly experiences a surge in traffic, if you manage your own servers you may not be able to cope with the traffic.

However, if you are on Azure, you will automatically be assigned more hardware until you reach the ceiling you specify. Then when your traffic goes down again, the servers are unassigned and your costs go back down. This way, you only have to pay for the hardware that you need, when you need it.

Here’s a video created by @marcholmes back in 2008 (it was the first result when I searched for “windows azure explained”!) to further explain the dynamic hardware allocation in Azure.

For loads more information on Azure, check out Dom Green’s blog (the UK’s resident Azure expert), the official Azure blog and website, or the Azure tag.