The July issue of MSDN Magazine is themed around the updated features and functionality of Microsoft Azure Web Sites, and reflects the rapid-fire pace of development we’ve seen in and around Microsoft’s cloud operating system. A package of five feature articles explores how developers can leverage the updated Azure platform to create and deliver powerful, scalable and manageable applications for the Web, quickly and efficiently.

Leading off the package is Yochay Kiriaty’s “Scaling Your Web Application with Azure Web Sites,” which shows how to modify Web applications to run across multiple instances and geographies. Up next are Apurva Joshi and Sunitha Muthukrishna, who show how to create and optimize resilient Web applications that can weather sometimes-hostile cloud environments.

Tejaswi Redkar authors a pair of features in the package “Building a Node.js and MongoDB Web Service” does just what the title says—it shows how to build a Node.js Web site that draws data from an Azure-hosted MongoDB database. “Hybrid Connectivity: Connecting Azure Web Sites to LOB Apps Using PortBridge” shows how to link and leverage cloud-based Azure Web sites and on-premises LOB applications.

The final article in the set, “Teaching from the Cloud” by James Chambers, explores a content-heavy development scenario, in this case developing an e-learning Web site.

Of course, there’s plenty beyond Microsoft Azure and Azure Web Sites going on out in the wild, and the diverse topics covered in this issue’s columns reflect that. Kenny Kerr’s Windows with C++ column explores the Windows composition engine and shows how an alpha-blended window can be reproduced using a composition surface rather than a swap chain. Julie Lerman tackles Entity Framework in her latest Data Points column, using a small Entity Data Model to work through problems developers might encounter when switching from the ObjectContext API to the newer DbContext API.

The back-of-book columns kick off with James McCaffrey’s Test Run column, titled “Distorting the MNIST Image Data Set,” that provides a demo program that generates deformed images to create training data for an image recognition system. Ted Neward’s column this month is titled “Fun with C#” and explores how developers can often resolve a programming problem in F# and then transfer the code over to C#. The Modern Apps column by Rachel Appel this month covers the basics of enabling application authentication on the Windows platform, while Charles Petzold’s DirectX Factor column shows how developers can use custom effects in Direct2D to approach authentic 3D programming functionality.

Our back page, as ever, is dedicated to David Platt and his Don’t Get Me Started column. This month, Platt takes a moment to appreciate the venerable Windows XP operating system as Microsoft sunsets support for it.