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New services bolster Microsoft Azure as key enterprise cloud management system

At Microsoft Management Summit 2013 company details Azure services that now control gated resource access, improve cloud management

By , Network World
April 11, 2013 09:53 AM ET

Network World - Las Vegas -- Microsoft is pushing Azure cloud service to the 5,000 attendees at its management conference this week, encouraging them to take advantage of the system now for specific tasks but to keep in mind that it fits into a full-blown hybrid-cloud framework that may become more attractive to them over time.

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During the keynote of Microsoft Management Summit 2013 the company announced that customers can now use Active Directory that is based within the Azure cloud to gate access to resources hosted there.

The company says it has also extended the reach of its System Center Management platform to provide insight into the performance of resources hosted within Azure. And customers can now use Azure's global points of presence to find out how well customer-facing services are performing to form a user's perspective around the world.

These new services are a lure to get businesses familiar with Azure and, Microsoft hopes, to adopt its overarching model for hybrid clouds called Cloud OS, which blends resources hosted in private clouds, in public clouds hosted by other service providers and in Azure, making them accessible to users as if they are all in the same location.

This enables creation of "data centers without boundaries," says Vice President of Microsoft Windows Server and Systems Center Group Brad Anderson. "A lot of you are making decisions on what you're cloud platform is going to be," he says. "Let us be that cloud platform."

A lot of you are making decisions on what you're cloud platform is going to be. Let us be that cloud platform.

The platform is made up of Windows Server, Systems Center and SQL server which can run as a private cloud or as a public cloud run by third-party service provider and is the backbone of Azure. It is that consistent platform that can enable, for example, creating supplemental SQL storage in Azure on the fly as more space is needed, Microsoft says.

Running Azure gives Microsoft insight into what is needed to run a cloud and that is reflected in developments of the products that make it up, Anderson says. Cloud services Microsoft runs include Office 365, Skype, MSN, Outlook.com, XboxLive, SkyDrive and Bing.

To make Azure more attractive as a supplement to Microsoft's cloud products that businesses already own, Microsoft announced several new offerings:

  • Azure now supports Active Directory for managing access to customers' applications hosted in the Azure cloud as well as Microsoft cloud services such as Office 365. This enables end users to sign in once to Azure and gain access to any applications for which they have been assigned rights. Similarly, businesses can revoke access rights when workers leave the company or change roles within the company, Microsoft says. Customers and business partners can be assigned access rights to sets of Azure-based corporate services and simplifying such access. The only requirement to reach Azure AD and sign in is an up-to-date browser.
  • System Center Management Pack for Azure and System Center Advisor Connector are both available as public previews for customers of System Center 2012 SP1. The first enables monitoring the performance of corporate resources that are housed within the Azure cloud using the same System Center platform they use to monitor assets hosted within the corporate network. The second is a resource for configuration best practices for Windows Server 2012 and Microsoft Hyper-V Server 2012. The advisor is accessible through System Center Operations Manager.
  • Windows Azure Backup is now a public paid preview. The backup to Azure protects data on corporate-owned servers by creating a backup in the cloud.
  • Microsoft has made available Global Service Monitor (GSM), which can help businesses that own System Center 2012 SP1 get a glimpse of how their outward-facing Web services are performing for customers.

(Tim Greene covers Microsoft and unified communications for Network World and writes the Mostly Microsoft blog. Reach him at tgreene@nww.com and follow him on Twitter https://twitter.com/#!/Tim_Greene.)

Read more about cloud computing in Network World's Cloud Computing section.

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