Last week 4 Smarties including myself were lucky enough to attend Microsoft Tech.Days Windows Azure Bootcamp in London. Usually for days like this Microsoft estimate (and allow for) around a 50% attendance rate, however 90% of the registered attendees for this event showed up which showed how much interest in cloud computing is taking off and required some quick provisioning of additional space from the organisers (akin to provisioning additional storage space in the cloud).

The camp was presented by Steve Plank (http://plankytronixx.com/default.aspx), with the content being a mixture of lecture / demo and try for yourself. This provided the audience with an overview of the current Azure platform and enough knowledge to walk away and start creating cloud based apps capable of exercising a number of basic Azure features.

There was also a quick 10 minute presentation during break time from the recently formed London Windows Azure User Group (http://www.lwaug.net) who’s first meeting is on the 6th December and sounds like it will be well worth regularly attending to both hear from their guest speakers and touch base with a number of other Azure developers to talk through experiences using the platform. Plus mention was given to the upcoming ‘6 Weeks of Azure’ programme (http://www.sixweeksofazure.co.uk/) beginning at the end of Jan 2012 where 6 weeks of free help will be given to UK companies wanting to have a look at the platform.

Based on the content presented on the day it is clear that a lot of thought has been put into the features within Azure and making sure that these will be easy to integrate into both existing and new developments where appropriate (and not just using Microsoft development tools or languages).

The main area that I am looking forward to diving deeper into is the Azure App Fabric, particularly the Azure Service Bus (http://msdn.microsoft.com/en-us/library/windowsazure/ee732537.aspx) as this looks like it will be incredibly useful in stitching together dispersed applications and also hooking existing on-premise solutions into new cloud based offerings and also the Caching Service (http://msdn.microsoft.com/en-us/library/windowsazure/gg278356.aspx) which will be really great  for both distributed and high bandwidth apps.

On the day the only part of the App Fabric that was demoed was the Access Control Service which under the covers used SAML.  Before the event I had dismissed as being just another way to validate users. However after seeing how easy this is to implement and use plus the ability to integrate with Active Directory via the use of ADFS2 (http://www.microsoft.com/download/en/details.aspx?displaylang=en&id=10909)  and a number of other authentication providers such as Google, Yahoo or LiveID I can see it becoming part of most Azure developments.

One question we had been kicking around prior to the event was ‘how production ready is Azure?’ as with other cloud service providers (such as AWS) we have tended to see our customers start by using these services for test / development or disaster recovery environments rather than production.

Although not fully answered it was clear that Microsoft are looking for customers to place production as well as development systems in Azure and have also been doing their homework on the problems previously experienced by other providers architecting the underlying infrastructure accordingly to cope with this.

Microsoft are offering a 99.95% SLA for external connectivity for compute hosted services that meet their criteria (at least 2 host instances configured for a service) which is the same as AWS for EC2 instances however the  Azure terms are measured monthly rather than yearly for AWS.

Azure also contains additional features such as the recently released SQL Azure Data Sync which allows data to be synchronised between SQL Azure instances in different locations and it was hinted that resilience features like this along with a huge number of other enhancements are currently under development across the platform.

Based on what was shown and discussed during the event it looks like there are exciting times ahead in the Windows Azure space and I am looking forward to architecting, developing and supporting applications that make use of its features.