Azure – A great big Microsoft cloud hug?

Well yesterday brought the PDC 2008 keynote with Ray Ozzie finally explaining Microsoft’s compute on demand strategy. However after following it and reading analysis I became very disappointed. I know, I know, its a Microsoft keynote it will be around the Microsoft toolbox and thus is unlikely to be relevant to me. But This time I had heard rumours and expected something a little different, elements that would extend way beyond the visual studio toolbox.

Microsoft have been talking about being more open and talking about things outside of their regular dev toolbox. The words I had heard were ‘PHP’ and ‘Eclipse’ amongst others. Not only that but for these two at least I had seen a great deal of confirmation from other sources, like Microsoft working with Zend and the Eclipse org. Thus I was expecting their compute on demand offerings to include at least PHP and possibly others outside of the visual studio regulars. It was a surprise to me that these outsiders were not mentioned in the keynote or subsequent analysis. You see unlike 5-10 years ago where Microsoft pretty much 0wn3d Developers, there are now many large parties of devs outside of their toolbox/language reach. It has therefore got to be a priority for Microsoft to some how leverage at least some of these out lying groups and to entice them into their new strategy. At the least I would expect Microsoft to play their familiar embrace and extend card, but there was no sign of it.

Luckily after following through on the commentary I came across a channel 9 video (silverlight less version) by Manuvir Das (Director in the Windows Azure team) that provided a much more in depth explanation of Azure. Not only does this video better explain Azure and it’s infrastructure but it also alludes to those missing pieces I expected to hear about. Just after halfway through the real elephant in the room is revealed, as the virtualisation is explained the presenter reveals (around 22 minutes in) that other languages do actually run within their new virtualised platform. Not only does he use the ‘PHP’ word and Python but he also drops the real anvil he mentions ‘RAILS’ ! not just Ruby but ‘Ruby on Rails’! That would mean they have gotten rails running on their virtual machine and will have ActiveRecord ported to their virtualised infinite storage – Bingo!! If this is true it could be big, it would mean Microsoft could attract PHP, Python and Rails devs into their cosy cloud play. It could be very attractive much like like Google’s AppEngine is for Pythonistas, infinite indestructible storage, instant scalability to as many systems you can shake a stick at, all in the releative safety of your favorite web language or DSL.

So what do you think about this huge cloud based hug to web developers, is this a master stroke from Microsoft, their worse kept secret, or are we being invited to put our heads inside the lions mouth ? Let me know your thoughts. Any links to further info or analysis about this would also be appreciated.

P.S. Yes I know this doesn’t mean it is a pure ‘Open’ play and I know that still hasn’t emerged from any player yet, but it is a still a very interesting story from a developers POV.

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