Windows Azure has been a godsend for developers. I have been using Windows Azure over the past few weeks and I have to say that the overall experience is amazing. I've used Amazon's Web Services in the past and one thing that always marred the experience was the convoluted and often confusing website. What Windows Azure has achieved is miles better than any other cloud service I've tried before and I explain why below.
The site was redesigned from the ground up and it is now using HTML 5 which is a big departure from the old Silverlight-based portal. This means that you can access the site from virtually every modern browser as long as you have internet connectivity. The monitoring dashboard allows users to manage their cloud assets in an efficient and productive way. The metrics make sense and the display is interactive. Users can now monitor performance, check for issues and troubleshoot problems, all in real time, using the new portal. Keeping an eye on costs is equally easy.
Virtual Machines is an Azure feature that allows users to quickly and efficiently create virtual machines on the cloud. It takes only a few minutes to get started and the help material is abundant. Setting up and provisioning a new VM can be done in only a few steps and after a few minutes users are presented with a new machine running the OS of their choice. That’s right. Microsoft was pretty awesome when deciding to embrace all platforms and not restrict its services to MS technologies only. This means that you can, as easily, chose between a LAMP (Linux, Apache, MySQL, PHP) stack and a new Windows Server VM without being penalised for your choice. Other suppliers (see Rackspace) are happy to charge extra for Windows-based VMs.
Once your VM is provisioned, connecting to it becomes even easier with the predefined remote desktop (.rdp) files available from the all so handy toolbar at the bottom. Scaling the VM is also easy to accomplish and the monitoring dashboard and feedback messages are easy to understand.
Websites is another great feature. Azure now offers deep Visual Studio and WebMatrix integration making this feature even more flexible and powerful. First of all, users get 10 free websites no questions asked. And then, the whole process, from development to deployment, is straightforward and easy to follow even for beginners. With the additional support for Git there are now even more reasons for developers to switch to Azure. There are numerous blogs that explain how to configure and run websites under Azure so there is great community support and any issues can be easily looked up and resolved.
Azure is not confined only to the .NET eco-system. Although I'm a .NET developer, my site is running on a WordPress platform. Creating the site was a revelation as Azure provides out-of-the-box support for WordPress and the provision of the new website was quick and painless. The new tier system also means that even the free sites now support domain name mapping and this allows users to redirect all traffic to their site(s) running under Azure!
There is a plethora of other services such as Cloud Services, SQL Databases, Service Bus and Active Directory (the latest addition to Azure) that are waiting be discovered. My next task is to implement a Mobile Services back-end for my new Windows Phone 8 app.