Microsoft Cloud Computing In A Nutshell

Cloud Computing

Cloud Computing

Cloud computing is when computing resources and applications are virtualized and accessed as a service on the Internet. The term cloud is used as a metaphor for the Internet. Cloud computing builds on a stack of technologies, where those higher up are directly or indirectly dependent on those before it. The different layers in the stack are (1) hardware, (2) virtualization, (3) Infrastructure as a Service, (4) Platform as a Service and (5) Software as a Service.

Virtualization, is a vital component of the cloud computing stack. Vendors providing cloud computing services make heavy use of virtualization to provide Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS) or to optimize their own data centers. Virtualization is when multiple virtual resources are created against an emulation layer that makes them believe they have exclusive access to the underlying hardware. It is also when a single virtual resource is created from multiple hardware components. Different types of resources are virtualized in the enterprise today: Desktops, applications, servers, networks, storage, and application infrastructure.

For the rest of this discussion we refer to server virtualization when we talk about virtualization. Server virtualization is based on a hypervisor. A hypervisor is a virtual machine monitor that intercepts calls to the hardware. It provides virtual memory and processor/s allowing multiple operating systems to run on the host computer concurrenctly.

  • Type 1 hypervisor, runs directly of the host computer’s hardware, bypassing its own operating system. Examples include Microsoft Hyper V, and VMWare ESX.
  • Type 2 hypervisor, runs as an application on the host computers operating system. Examples include Microsoft Virtual PC, Microsoft Virtual Server, and Sun VirtualBox.

Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS), makes infrastructure available on demand as a fully outsourced service, based on the client’s consumption and specifications. Amazon’s Elastic Compute Cloud (EC2) is probably the best example to demonstrate the IaaS concept. Amazon EC2 provides a web service and command line tool to clients through which an Amazon Machine Image can be booted to create a virtual machine instance containing the desired software. You can configure servers with your desired operating system, web servers, database servers, and any other software you need. You can also adjust your processing and storage capacity in minutes, and only pay for the capacity you use.

Platform as a Service (PaaS), also offers compute power, storage, and networking infrastructure over the web, not directly as servers, but rather as a runtime environment for hosting applications or application components. Windows Azure Services PlatformGoogle AppEngine and fall under this category. When you build an application on PaaS, it uses complete application services, specific to the framework, like workflow, storage or security. This is distinct from IaaS, where the developer needs to deal with low level resources, such as databases and servers. For instance, when you use Windows Azure’s Compute Service, you don’t have to make decisions about the application server that will be hosting the application – its disk size, operating system, processor and those kind of things. You just provide your web application to the Compute Service, and it takes care of the rest.

Software as a Service (SaaS). A web application or service provided by a vendor over the Internet, charged on a per-use basis. Examples of SaaS are, Windows Live Hotmail, and GitHub.

Azure Services Platform

Finally we can take a look at how Microsoft positions itself for cloud computing. Microsoft’s cloud service platform, called Windows Azure Platform, is the base framework for hosting and management of Microsoft’s cloud services, and the development of your cloud based apps. Windows Azure integrates with Visual Studio, making it easy to develop apps using Microsoft’s cloud services. Windows Azure serves as a type of application server that can host your applications, and provide it with high performance computing and storage. You can only use the specific services required, so you are not forced to host your entire client application on Windows Azure. But if you’re developing a web application that uses SQL Azure it will be beneficial to host the client application on Windows Azure as well, because it will live close the database, in the same data centre.

The Windows Azure Compute Service hosts .NET web applications. Windows Azure Storage Services provide various options for storing application data:

  1. Blob service, for storing text or binary data
  2. Queue service, for reliable, persistent messaging between services
  3. Table service, for structured storage that can be queried.

Two separate cloud services run on Windows Azure, AppFabric and SQL Azure. These provide specific features that will be used in your applications. Combining these service offerings with the Windows Azure foundation forms the complete Windows Azure Services Platform:


AppFabric provides advanced network and security services to enable and control apps. Previously called .NET Services, AppFabric delivers this functionality through two services Access Control and Service Bus. .NET Services previously included .NET Workflow Service, but it was decided to release this in a later version.

  1. AppFabric Service Bus (ASB): Provides a relay service that allow clients and services to discover, publish and communicate in a secure, consistent and reliable way. The ASB makes it easy to expose services securely that live behind firewalls, network address translation (NAT) boundaries, and/or have frequently changing, dynamically assigned IP addresses. It allows cloud-based workflows to communicate with on-premise applications by traversing firewalls and NAT equipment. To the client application, apart from a few exceptions, the ASB is a Windows Communication Foundation (WCF) style service,with similar protocols, bindings, end-points, and behaviors. One of the main differences between the ASB service and a regular WCF service is that the ASB service lives in the web. ASB supports both REST and SOAP based services.The ASB provides:
    • Federated namespace. Enables services to be published in a hierarchical namespace, with stable end-point addresses.
    • Service directory. Service end-points are be published to the ASB and clients can locate them through a Atom/RSS feed.
    • Message broker. Provides a publish/subscribe event bus, where messages are broadcasted in different categories, and clients filter them based on the relevant categories.
    • Relay and connectivety. Ensures clients and services can reach each other regardless of their location, or whether it changes. This is one of the features that I am most excited about, as it allows you to make your services available to client apps over the Internet from your local network, regardless of whether it might sit behind a firewall.

    ASB uses the AppFabric Access Control for its access control. This means all participants must first obtain a security token from the AAC, before they can communicate through the relay service.

  2. AppFabric Access Control (AAC): Provides access control to applications and services based on federated, claims-based identity providers, including enterprise directories and web identity systems such as Windows Live ID. What stands out is that ACC uses claims-based identity providers, and is part of te broader change from domain-based to claims-based authetication.If you’ve been using NTLM or Kerberos in your apps, then you know what domain-based authentication is. Domain-based authentication allows only a single token in a fixed format, with a specific set of claims or information dictated by the authentication standard. Claims-based authentication allows multiple token formats, with arbritary information, or claims. This means an application that uses claims-based authentication can support different authentication types, and use extra information encoded in a token as claims. The end result of this is that claims-based authentication can be used in more diverse environments, such as on the Internet and a Windows domain. Claims-based authentication also allows an identity, called a federated identity, coming from one security domain, to access resources on a different security domain.

SQL Azure

SQL Azure is Microsoft’s SQL Server in the cloud. SQL Azure is based on the same Microsoft SQL Server technologies that you have been using in your apps until now. Applications use the Tabular Data Stream (TDS) protocol to communicate with SQL Server, through one of the client libraries such as ADO .NET, Open Database Connectivity (ODBC), Java Database Connectivity (JDBC), and the SQL Server driver for PHP. Specific to ADO.NET it supports .NET Framework Data Provider for SQL Server (System.Data.SqlClient) from the .NET Framework 3.5 Service Pack 1. This means you use exactly the same database libraries for SQL Azure, that you will use for SQL Server. An added benefit to this is, that it makes it easy to migrate current applications from SQL Server to SQL Azure.

Some Final Thoughts

There are several benefits to using cloud computing:

  1. Dynamic computing resources. Resources can quickly adjust to match new demand for computing resources. This frees enterprises from estimating the growth in applications and their resource consumption and make upfront investments that isn’t fully utilised. Should the company experience a reduction in business due to a downturn or similar negative event, computing resources can immediately adjust, and cash flows automatically adjust accordingly.
  2. Cost. Think of all the costs an organization can save from a reduction in the installation, upgrading and maintenance of servers, data centers, networks, cabling, security, file systems, backups, and so forth. Not all projects will see an automatic reduction of costs as a result of cloud computing, especially if one only looks at it from a single project. But if you look at all the projects, over a number of years, then I believe an organization can see a dramatic reduction in costs if cloud computing is adopted in some areas.
  3. Complexity. By outsourcing computing resources to the cloud, organizations reduce the overall complexity of their systems.
  4. Capacity. Cloud computing provides cheap access to huge quantities of computing resources. Imagine a small company with an application that provides high definition movies and music over the web. An application like this will require vast amounts of storage and processing power, much more than what a small company can comfortably handle. To manage a data centre that will allow an application like this to run comfortably will be a huge burden to the company.
  5. Service orientation. Organizations can now gain some of the same benefits of adopting a Service Oriented Architecture (SOA) for their applications, by using cloud-based components in their applications. To a large degree infrastructure and other computing resources are now contract driven, providing a consistent service layer between the resource and the client application.

There are also some interesting emerging cloud computing models:

  1. Enterprise cloud computing. Using the same technology behind cloud computing inside the enterprise. This means that the services that are made available through the cloud is only accessible to applications running on the enterprise’s private network.
  2. Cloud bursting. A hybrid model where computing resources are accessed just like before in the traditional way, but when a resource hits a specified threshold the system uses cloud computing resources for the demand overflow.



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