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Although Microsoft has argued that the lines between infrastructure and platform clouds are bound to blur, Server and Tools president Bob Muglia said during the PDC keynote address that Microsoft is still firmly in the PaaS camp.
Developers' familiarity with software like .NET, Visual Studio, System Center makes Azure a natural fit for them, while providing greater fault tolerance than a typical IT shop might be capable of, he said.
"Platform-as-a-service recognizes that failure will happen," Muglia said. "Failure will happen certainly within the hardware. It's designed to keep the application running through failure. When something fails it's no big deal. Another instance is just spun up."
Some developers are showing interest in using Azure on the back end for building Windows Phone 7 applications, Microsoft said.
Muglia also brought Pixar official Chris Ford up to the keynote stage to discuss how Pixar is using Azure to speed up rendering of video. A 103-minute movie in 3D (like "Toy Story 3") has 290,000 frames, and each one takes eight hours to render, he said. "You can see this is a big computational challenge," Ford said. "If we had just one processor, it would take us 272 years to render a movie."
In addition to the application virtualization and cloud-based Windows Server instances, Microsoft discussed numerous other planned features that will ease the development process while improving performance and data access.
For example, AppFabric Caching, to be generally available in the first half of 2011, will help developers accelerate applications by storing frequently accessed data in an application's memory cache.
DataMarket, released at PDC, provides access to third-party data and analytics, such as real-time stock information, that can be used to build apps. Microsoft also said that before the end of 2010 it will deliver the Windows Azure Marketplace, a spot "for developers and IT professionals to share, find, buy and sell building block components, training, services and finished services or applications."
Stahl of U.S. Airways was intrigued by a demo of Team Foundation Server (TFS) running on Azure, which will be available as a technology preview in 2011.
"I'd love to have a development server in the cloud," Stahl said. "I saw some hints that that might be possible, especially with the TFS offering."
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Read more about cloud computing in Network World's Cloud Computing section.