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Are you are interested in developing solutions and hosting them in the cloud? The Windows Azure platform has turned three years old this November, and has evolved considerably in this time, providing world class cloud offerings.

Here is a quick intro of each of the services that Windows Azure offers:

 

Windows Azure Compute

A scalable and highly available application hosting environment that allows you to run your front-end web applications and background processing code. You as a developer can create applications using several languages such as .NET, PHP and Java. Check out the Windows Azure Virtual Machine (VM) as well if you want to preconfigure what runs in the cloud.

Database

A scalable relational database in the cloud, called SQL Azure, with high availability and fault tolerance built-in. If you are familiar with SQL Server development you are ready to use SQL Azure. You can also easily synchronize SQL Azure databases and between SQL Azure and On-Premises SQL Server databases with SQL Azure Data Sync.

Business Intelligence

SQL Azure Reporting is a flexible and cost effective cloud-based service that provides reporting capabilities. The reports are created using Business Intelligence Design Studio (BIDS) and SQL Server Data Tools and can be exposed via the ReportViewer control or accessed via the Windows Azure portal.

Storage

A number of storage services for secure, scalable and easy to access storage of structured and unstructured data (such as audio, video, images, or large amounts of texts). REST and Managed APIs are provided to developers.

Content Delivery Network

Enhances end user performance and reliability by placing copies of storage data closer to users.

Service Bus

Secure messaging and connectivity capabilities that enable building distributed and loosely-coupled applications in the cloud. The features of the service bus make the life of developers much easier.

Access Control

Provides identity federation and access control to web applications and services, enabling you to move authorization decisions out of the application and into a set of declarative rules that can transform incoming security claims into claims that applications understand.

Caching

Provided as a service, it is a distributed, in-memory application cache for Windows Azure and SQL Azure applications.

Virtual Network

A set of networking functionalities. Windows Azure Connect provides an easy mechanism to setup IP-based network connectivity between on-premises and Windows Azure resources. Windows Azure Traffic Manager allows you to load balance traffic between multiple hosted services with a choice of different load balancing methods.

Marketplace

A global online market for you to promote and sell finished Software-as-a-Service applications and premium datasets.

Now that you know about the features available, what are the first steps for you to take to start developing against it?

As a Microsoft developer:

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Obtain a free trial of the Windows Azure Platform or activate your free access if you have an MSDN subscription

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Download and go through the very comprehensive Windows Azure Platform Training Kit and the Windows Azure Toolkit for Windows Phone.

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Get code samples and technical articles

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Ask questions in the Windows Azure Platform forums

As a Non-Microsoft developer:

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Obtain a free trial of the Windows Azure Platform or activate your free access if you have an MSDN subscription

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Download the SDKs for Java, PHP and Ruby and the toolkits for iOS and Android

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Review the guidance for Windows Azure and PHP, Drupal, Wordpress, and Java

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Ask questions in the Windows Azure Platform forums

Drop us a note in the comments if you would like to find out more about Windows Azure. We are running local events and competitions next year so follow us on twitter at @msdnnz to find out more.

Thiago Almeida
Technology Evangelist
Microsoft New Zealand
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