Microsoft Windows Azure, Demystified

's recent entry into cloud computing, Windows Azure, was both a strategic and necessary move that has put other cloud computing players on notice. Threatened by competition from industry titans, such as , and , Microsoft pulled a page out their old playbook and leveraged their development platform strength, a decision that has perhaps turned the cloud tide back in their favor. Given the popularity of the .NET platform and Microsoft's vast financial resources, Azure is a cloud force to be reckoned with. However, the emergence of Windows Azure does not guarantee that Microsoft is a cinch to dominate the cloud computing market.

But before we go too far, let's make sure we're on the same page by answering a couple of key questions: What is Windows Azure and what benefits does it provide?

According to the Microsoft Azure Services Platform site, "Windows Azure is a cloud services operating system that serves as the development, service hosting and service management environment for the Azure Services Platform." This definition, while concise, requires some imagination.

Drawing out the definition a bit more, Windows Azure is an application development and runtime environment (.NET in this case), hosted and managed by Microsoft (within Microsoft "owned and operated" data centers), that enables IT organizations and software vendors to offer software as a service (SaaS). To put it more succinctly, Windows Azure is an application platform offered as a service (PaaS).

PaaS, Explained

PaaS, such as Azure, is at least, one part of cloud computing (albeit nascent). Looking at the market today, several PaaS choices are available including: Google's App Engine,'s, and 's Cloud Computing strategy.