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Windows Azure is growing up, and Redmond is telling the world that many components of it are now ready to be put to work in production environments.

The company made several announcements on Monday relating to Azure's maturation, including the shift of Azure Active Directory into general availability, the launch (in preview) of a Windows Azure Backup service, and the launch of a management package.

These announcements come at a crucial year for the junior infrastructure-as-a-service cloud, as Microsoft prepares to take many features once in preview – softy-speak for "beta" – into general availability, and launch others to bring feature parity with Amazon's feature-rich AWS cloud.

Azure Active Directory (AD) provides identity and access management for many cloudy Microsoft services, including Azure, Office365, and Windows Intune.

By making the product generally available, Microsoft is signalling to interested parties that the technology has been thoroughly tested and is ready to be put into production. Thirty-five hundred companies used the technology while it was in beta, Microsoft wrote.

"Up until now, customers could only use [Active Directory] as an internal component of one of Microsoft's cloud apps," a Microsoft spokesperson told The Register via email. "Now it is a standalone cloud service that can be used with any SaaS app in Microsoft's cloud or third party clouds."

To mark Azure AD's maturation, Microsoft has given it new features, including more sophisticated access management, SAML 2.0 support, OpenID and OAuth2.0 support, along with the ability to add AD to Azure subscriptions.

With this latest release, existing Windows Azure customers who log in using a Microsoft Account can now add a Windows Azure AD tenant and use it to manage access to Azure for their employees with either Microsoft Accounts or Azure AD accounts.

Along with AD going into general availability, the company has also pushed Windows Azure Backup into preview. This service lets administrators use Windows Server 2008 R2 SP1, Windows Server 2012, Windows Server 2012 Essentials, or System Center 2012 Data Protection Manager SP1 to configure backup data onto the Azure cloud.

The technology supports incremental backups. "This helps ensure efficient use of storage, reduce bandwidth consumption, and point-in-time recovery of multiple versions of the data," Microsoft corporate vice president Scott Guthrie wrote in a blog post.

System Center 2012 – Microsoft's all-purpose data center management software – has been hooked further into Azure via the System Center Management Pack for Windows Azure, which lets admins monitor availability and performance of the cloud from within SC2012, according to Microsoft snoop Mary Jo Foley.

Redmond is showing love to the platform-as-a-service components of Azure as well, with the company adding further analytics capabilities to its "Web Sites" service that makes it easier to get at recent data stored in log files, Guthrie wrote. ®

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