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PDC Amazon's EC2 has overshadowed Microsoft's Professional Developer Conference where Steve Ballmer and Co. finally announced their cloud-computing architecture, codenamed Red Dog.

Microsoft software architect Ray Ozzie kicked off PDC promising a limited - limited mind - community technology preview (CTP) of the Azure Services Platform. Microsoft is being conservative with what it releases, Ozzie said.

There's still no date on Azure, with Ozzie saying Microsoft will take feedback in 2008 and 2009 to prioritize the features it layers in and exposes. "We will be unlocking more and more access to the underlying services capabilities and will get closer to commercial release as a result of your efforts," Ozzie said.

When things do go live, Ozzie said Microsoft would charge by resource consumption and a service-level agreement. Those signing up to the CTP will get SQL Services for storage, Live Services to store, share and synchronize documents, and a Windows SDK using Visual Studio.

Azure is Red Dog, the computing, networking and storage software layer that's been a work in progress under corporate vice president Amitabh Srivastava and has already been widely reported. Speaking at PDC, Srivastava called Azure "the kernel of the Microsoft cloud platform."

Trying to build up Azure, Ozzie - Microsoft cloud-advocate in chief - called this a turning point for Microsoft as it's finally able to talk about what it's been working on for the past couple of years. "It is the transformation of our software across the board," Ozzie said.

Unfortunately, Amazon beat Microsoft to the cloud with AWS and is now providing a beta Windows service. "Some years ago, after we launched our effort, Amazon launched EC2. I'd like to tip my hat to [Amazon chief executive] Jeff Bezos," Ozzie said, claiming Amazon would set some early industry benchmarks.

Ozzie said Microsoft has "some different objectives" with Azure.

What could be Microsoft's saving grace and big differentiator is the fact that it works with tried and tested Windows server and tools software. You'd never have guessed this, though, judging by the way it threw everything into the Azure demo at PDC. Microsoft wanted something to stick, making Azure seem suited to businesses and hobbyists alike. Executives demoed how you could build and deploy a mobile social-networking application using Azure as the underlying platform.

Has Microsoft heard of the economic crash and start-up layoffs?

Azure features a kernel for hosting, networking, and management with a "fabric controller." There's virtualization using Microsoft's Hypervisor and workflow and access control with .NET services. There's Microsoft's Live Services and storage using an implementation of Microsoft's SQL Server called SQL Services.

The whole platform runs on Windows Server 2008, and you can re-use existing Windows skills in Visual Basic and C# working through Visual Studio.

Senior vice president of server and tools Bob Muglia promised data analytics and reporting, data synchronization between on-premises and mobile devices, reporting and ETL. "Over time we will have tons and tons of reference data you can use as part of your application," Muglia said. Ozzie said Microsoft's Dynamics CRM and SharePoint would "fulfill a very important role" in Azure.

Dave Thompson, corporate vice president of Microsoft online who has worked with Srivastava, went further: "In the future, all our enterprise software will be delivered as an online service. "®

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