Note: Cross posted from IUpdateable from Eric Nelson.
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At QCon in March we had a sample Azure application implemented in both Java and Ruby to demonstrate that the Windows Azure Platform is not just about .NET. The following is an interesting interview with Rob Blackwell, the R&D director of the partner who implemented the application.

UK Interoperability Team Interviews Rob Blackwell, R&D Director at Active Web Solutions.

Is Microsoft taking interoperability seriously?

Yes. In the past, I think Microsoft has, quite rightly come in for criticism, but architects and developers should look at this again. The Interoperability Bridges site (http://www.interoperabilitybridges.com/ ) shows a wide range of projects that allow interoperability from Java, Ruby and PHP for example.

The Windows Azure platform has been architected with interoperable APIs in mind. It's straightforward to access the various storage facilities from just about any language or platform. Azure compute is capable of running more than just C# applications!

Why is interoperability important to you?

My company provides consultancy and bespoke development services. We're a Microsoft Gold Partner, but we live in the real world where companies have a mix of technologies provided by a variety of vendors.

When developing an enterprise software solution, you rarely have a completely blank canvas. We often see integration scenarios where we need to exchange data with legacy systems. It's not unusual to see modern Silverlight applications being built on top of Java or Mainframe based back ends.

Could you give us some examples of where interoperability has been important for your projects?

We developed an innovative Sea Safety system for the RNLI Lifeboats here in the UK. Commercial Fishing is one of the most dangerous professions and we helped developed the MOB Guardian System which uses satellite technology and man overboard devices to raise the alarm when a fisherman gets into trouble. The solution is implemented in .NET running on Windows, but without interoperable standards, it would have been impossible to communicate with the satellite gateway technology. For more information, please see the case study: http://www.microsoft.com/casestudies/Case_Study_Detail.aspx?CaseStudyID=4000005892

More recently, we were asked to build a web site to accompany the QCon 2010 conference in London to help demonstrate and promote interoperability. We built the site using Java and Restlet and hosted it in Windows Azure Compute. The site accepts feedback from visitors and all the data is stored in Windows Azure Storage. We also ported the application to Ruby on Rails for demonstration purposes. Visitors to the stand were surprised that this was even possible.

Why should Java developers be interested in Windows Azure?

Windows Azure Storage consists of Blobs, Queues and Tables. The storage is scalable, durable, secure and cost-effective. Using the WindowsAzure4j library, it's easy to use, and takes just a few lines of code. If you are writing an application with large data storage requirements, or you want an offsite backup, it makes a lot of sense.

Running Java applications in Azure Compute is straightforward with tools like the Tomcat Solution Accelerator (http://code.msdn.microsoft.com/winazuretomcat )and AzureRunMe (http://azurerunme.codeplex.com/ ).

The Windows Azure AppFabric Service Bus can also be used to connect heterogeneous systems running on different networks and in different data centres.

How can The Service Bus be considered an interoperability solution?

I think that the Windows Azure AppFabric Service Bus is one of Microsoft’s best kept secrets. Think of it as “a globally scalable application plumbing kit in the sky”.

If you have used Enterprise Service Buses before, you’ll be familiar with the concept. Applications can connect to the service bus to securely exchange data – these can be point to point or multicast links.

With the AppFabric Service Bus, the applications can exist anywhere that has access to the Internet and the connections can traverse firewalls. This makes it easy to extend or scale your application or reach out to other networks and technologies.

For example, let’s say you have a SQL Server database running on premises and you want to expose the data to a Java application running in the cloud. You could set up a point to point Service Bus connection and use JDBC. Traditionally this would have been difficult or impossible without punching holes in firewalls and compromising security.

Rob Blackwell is R&D Director at Active Web Solutions, www.aws.net , a Microsoft Gold Partner specialising in leading edge software solutions. He is an occasional writer and conference speaker and blogs at www.robblackwell.org.uk

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