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Microsoft takes second run at platform cloud

Windows Server 2012 R2 tries to rehabilitate PaaS tech

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Microsoft is taking a second run at platform-as-a-service clouds with a set of features to be included in Windows Server 2012 R2 that may give Redmond some credible tech to take on a field flush with rivals.

When Windows Azure launched in 2009 many media and analyst reports (El Reg excluded) thought the future for platform-as-a-service seem bright: money would be made, Microsoft would make a smooth transition into the heavens where it would rain Bezos's infrastructure-as-a-service Amazon Web Services cloud out of existence and, once again, Ballmer would be the king of software.

It didn't pan out that way.

Something about the proprietary nature of platform-as-a-service seemed to unnerve developers, with few choosing the technology over more modifiable, component based IaaS clouds, like AWS.

Both Windows Azure and Google's App Engine floundered, with neither service drawing enough devotees to quell the rise of Amazon. Years later, the two tech titans flip-flopped on their PaaS-first attitude and came out with infrastructure-as-a-service clouds (Azure and Google Compute Engine).

Now, Microsoft is putting the PaaS credentials back into Azure with a renewed focus on the technology as it boosts the cloud tech of the 2012 R2 version of Windows Server via the "Windows Azure Pack".

One of the main features of Azure to get a major upgrade in R2 is the Web Sites feature, Microsoft announced on Wednesday, which gives developers a simple runtime environment to use when hosting a web application.

New features include 64-bit worker processes for developers that need a huge memory footprint for their applications, IPv6 support for both HTTP and encrypted HTTP traffic, and native WebSocket Protocol Support.

By implementing WebSocket Protocol Support, Microsoft says developers will be able to build applications around apps that push data out to devices automatically ("push" models) rather than apps that instead phone-home occasionally ("pull" models).

It also introduces automatic data management for idle sites, and instead of shutting down idle web sites will move them from RAM to disk.

"This leads to dramatically improved performance by reducing the frequency of cold start events, since the application can quickly be paged back into memory from disk instead of requiring recompilation."

With the further development of the PaaS capabilities of Windows Azure, Microsoft is hoping it can combine its TIFKAM (The Interface Formerly Known As Metro) UI with lessons learnt from its public facing Azure cloud to give developers their own runtime to install on their own gear.

But Redmond is a bit optimistic when it writes "Microsoft is literally the only company offering these kinds of capabilities across clouds". We imagine that Red Hat via OpenShift Enterprise and Pivotal via Cloud Foundry would disagree with that statement. ®

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