Microsoft is ramping up its Azure cloud computing platform with the opening of two more datacentres, bringing the total to six.
Microsoft claims Azure offers businesses significant advantages because it makes the widely-used Windows .net programming environment available in the cloud.
The benefit of this approach, according to Microsoft, is that developers do not need to learn new skills. Some companies running Azure have migrated applications in a matter of weeks.
Commercial interest in the Microsoft service is growing. A number of businesses have developed products and services using Azure.
Photo book publisher KoodibooK is one of the businesses built on Azure. The photo book self-publishing system uses Azure to enable consumers to preview and publish photo books themselves using templates. The web front end, processing engine and back end run on Azure. It uses SQL Azure, Windows Azure and in-house SQL Sever 2008 and Windows Server 2008 software.
Richard Godfrey of KoodibooK says the Azure cloud has helped the company build a scalable system. Azure provides an infrastructure which supports the peak traffic during Christmas, he says. "We had no idea how much volume we would get. We could not afford to build a datacentre."
Azure has been easy to program but it is still missing some useful features, such as free text search, and system diagnostics still needs work, says Godfrey.
Rob Fraser, founder of RiskMetrics, a spin-off from analyst JP Morgan, has used Azure to supplement the company's own datacentre. The company uses Azure for high-performance number crunching. He says, "We have 2000 computers on Azure now, and we are aiming to grow this to 10,000."
Fraser did not want to expose his clients to the risk of confidential market-sensitive data loss in the cloud. Instead, he uses Azure to number crunch publicly available market data. The results are passed to the internal RiskMetics datacentre, where risk analytics are calculated by applying rules based on the volume of securities held by the client.
Since Azure is charged by the amount of computational processing power used, RiskMetrics has created an application which tells its operational IT staff how much the analytics costs per hour. This allows them to manage costs.