Category Archives: Azure

The necessity of PaaS: Will Microsoft be the Singapore of Cloud Computing?

From ancient Mesopotamia to, more recently, Holland, Switzerland, Japan, Singapore and Korea, the success of many societies has been in part credited to their lack of natural resources. The theory being that it motivated them to rely on human capital, commerce and innovation rather than resource extraction. This approach eventually put them ahead of their better-endowed neighbors.

A similar dynamic may well propel Microsoft ahead in PaaS (Platform as a Service): IaaS with Windows is so painful that it may force Microsoft to focus on PaaS. The motivation is strong to “go up the stack” when the alternative is to cultivate the arid land of Windows-based IaaS.

I should disclose that I work for one of Microsoft’s main competitors, Oracle (though this blog only represents personal opinions), and that I am not an expert Windows system administrator. But I have enough experience to have seen some of the many reasons why Windows feels like a much less IaaS-friendly environment than Linux: e.g. the lack of SSH, the cumbersomeness of RDP, the constraints of the Windows license enforcement system, the Windows update mechanism, the immaturity of scripting, the difficulty of managing Windows from non-Windows machines (despite WS-Management), etc. For a simple illustration, go to EC2 and compare, between a Windows AMI and a Linux AMI, the steps (and time) needed to get from selecting an image to the point where you’re logged in and in control of a VM. And if you think that’s bad, things get even worse when we’re not just talking about a few long-lived Windows server instances in the Cloud but a highly dynamic environment in which all steps have to be automated and repeatable.

I am not saying that there aren’t ways around all this, just like it’s not impossible to grow grapes in Holland. It’s just usually not worth the effort. This recent post by RighScale illustrates both how hard it is but also that it is possible if you’re determined. The question is what benefits you get from Windows guests in IaaS and whether they justify the extra work. And also the additional license fee (while many of the issues are technical, others stem more from Microsoft’s refusal to acknowledge that the OS is a commodity). [Side note: this discussion is about Windows as a guest OS and not about the comparative virtues of Hyper-V, Xen-based hypervisors and VMWare.]

Under the DSI banner, Microsoft has been working for a while on improving the management/automation infrastructure for Windows, with tools like PowerShell (which I like a lot). These efforts pre-date the Cloud wave but definitely help Windows try to hold it own on the IaaS battleground. Still, it’s an uphill battle compared with Linux. So it makes perfect sense for Microsoft to move the battle to PaaS.

Just like commerce and innovation will, in the long term, bring more prosperity than focusing on mining and agriculture, PaaS will, in the long term, yield more benefits than IaaS. Even though it’s harder at first. That’s the good news for Microsoft.

On the other hand, lack of natural resources is not a guarantee of success either (as many poor desertic countries can testify) and Microsoft will have to fight to be successful in PaaS. But the work on Azure and many research efforts, like the “next-generation programming model for the cloud” (codename “Orleans”) that Mary Jo Foley revealed today, indicate that they are taking it very seriously. Their approach is not restricted by a VM-centric vision, which is often tempting for hypervisor and OS vendors. Microsoft’s move to PaaS is also facilitated by the fact that, while system administration and automation may not be a strength, development tools and application platforms are.

The forward-compatible Cloud will soon overshadow the backward-compatible Cloud and I expect Microsoft to play a role in it. They have to.


Filed under Application Mgmt, Automation, Azure, Cloud Computing, DevOps, Everything, IT Systems Mgmt, Linux, Manageability, Mgmt integration, Microsoft, Middleware, Oslo, PaaS, Research, Utility computing, WS-Management

PaaS as the path to MDA?

Lots of communities think of Cloud Computing as the realization of a vision that they have been pusuing for a while (“sure we didn’t call it Cloud back then but…”). Just ask the Grid folks, the dynamic data center folks (DCML, IBM’s “Autonomic Computing”, HP’s “Adaptive Enterprise”,  Microsoft’s DSI), the ASP community, and those of us who toiled on what was going to be the SOAP-based management stack for all IT (e.g. my HP colleagues and I can selectively quote mentions of “adaptation mechanisms like resource reservation, allocation/de-allocation” and “management as a service” in this WSMF white paper from 2003 to portray WSMF as a precursor to all the Cloud APIs of today).

I thought of another such community today, as I ran into older OMG specifications: the Model-Driven Architecture (MDA) community. I have no idea what people in this community actually think of Cloud Computing, but it seems to me that PaaS is a chance to come close to part of their vision. For two reasons: PaaS makes it easier and more rewarding, all at the same time, to practice model-driven design. More bang for less buck.


My understanding of the MDA value proposition is that it would allow you to create a high-level design (at the level of something like an augmented version of UML) and have it automatically turn into executable code (e.g. that can run in a JEE or .NET container). I am probably making it sound more naive than it really is, but not by much. That’s a might wide gap to bridge, for QVT and friends, from UMLish to byte-code and it’s no surprise that the practical benefits of MDA are still to be seen (to put it kindly).

In a PaaS/SaaS world, on the other hand, you are mapping to something that is higher level than byte code. Depending on what types of PaaS containers you envision, some of the abstractions provided by these containers (e.g. business process execution, event processing) are a lot closer to the concepts manipulated in your PIM (Platform-independent model, the UMLish mentioned above). Thus a smaller gap to bridge and a better chance of it being automagical. Especially if you add a few SaaS building blocks to the mix.

More rewarding

Not only should it be easier to map a PIM to a PaaS deployment environments, the benefits you get once you are done are incommensurably greater. Rather than getting a dump of opaque auto-generated byte-code running in a regular JVM/CLR, you get an environments in which the design concepts (actors/services, process, rules, events) and the business model elements are first class citizens of the platform management infrastructure. So that you can monitor and set policies on the same things that you manipulate in you PIM. As opposed to falling down to the lowest common denominator of CPU/memory metrics. Or, god forbid, trying to diagnose/optimize machine-generated code.

We shall see

I wasn’t thinking of Microsoft SQL Server Modeling (previously known as Oslo) when I wrote this, but Doug Purdy’s tweet made the connection for me. And indeed, one can see in SQLSM+Azure the leading candidate today to realizing the MDA vision… minus the OMG MDA specifications.

[Note: I wasn’t planning to blog this, but after I tweeted the basic idea (“Attempting MDA (model-driven architecture) before inventing model-driven deployment and mgmt was hopeless. Now possibly getting there.”) Shlomo requested more details and I got frustrated by the difficulty to explain my point in twitterisms. In effect, this blog entry is just an expanded tweet, not something as intensely believed, fanatically researched and authoritatively supported as my usual blog posts (ah!).]

[UPDATED 2009/12/29: Some relevant presentations from OMG-land, thanks to Jean Bezivin. Though I don’t see mention of any specific plan to use/adapt MOF/XMI/QVT/etc for the Cloud.]


Filed under Application Mgmt, Automation, Azure, BPM, Business Process, Cloud Computing, Everything, Implementation, Microsoft, Middleware, Modeling, Specs, Standards, Utility computing

Can your hypervisor radio for air support?

As I was reading about Microsoft Azure recently, a military analogy came to my mind. Hypervisors are tanks. Application development and runtime platforms compose the air force.

Tanks (and more generally the mechanization of ground forces) transformed war in the 20th century. They multiplied the fighting capabilities of individuals and changed the way war was fought. A traditional army didn’t stand a chance against a mechanized one. More importantly, a mechanized army that used the new tools with the old mindset didn’t stand a chance against a similarly equipped army that had rethought its strategy to take advantage of the new capabilities. Consider France at the beginning of WWII, where tanks were just canons on wheels, spread evenly along the front line to support ground troops. Contrast this with how Germany, as part of the Blitzkrieg, used tanks and radios to create highly mobile – and yet coordinated – units that caused havoc in the linear French defense.

Exercise for the reader who wants to push the analogy further:

  • Describe how Blitzkrieg-style mobility of troops (based on tanks and motorized troop transports) compares to Live Migration of virtual machines.
  • Describe how the use of radios by these troops compares to the use of monitoring and control protocols to frame IT management actions.

Tanks (hypervisor) were a game-changer in a world of foot soldiers (dedicated servers).

But no matter how good your tanks are, you are at a disadvantage if the other party achieves air superiority. A less sophisticated/numerous ground force that benefits from strong air support is likely to prevail over a stronger ground force with no such support. That’s what came to my mind as I read about how Azure plans to cover the IaaS layer, but in the context of an application-and-data-centric approach. Where hypervisors are not left to fend for themselves based on the limited view of the horizion from the periscope of their turrets but rather orchestrated, supported (and even deployed) from the air, from the application platform.

C-130 tank airdrop

(Yes, I am referring to the Azure vision as it was presented at PDC09, not necessarily the currently available bits.)

Does your Cloud vendor/provider need an air force?

Exercise for the reader who wants to push the analogy to the stratosphere:

  • Describe how business logic/process, business transaction management and business intelligence are equivalent to satellites, surveying the battlefield and providing actionable intelligence.

The new Cloud stack (“military-cloud complex” version):


[Note: I have no expertise in military history (or strategy) beyond high school classes about WWI and WWII, plus a couple of history books and a few war movies. My goal here is less to be accurate on military concerns (though I hope to be) than to draw an analogy which may be meaningful to fellow IT management geeks who share my level of (in)expertise in military matters. This is just yet another way in which I try to explain that, for Clouds as for plain old IT management, “it’s the application, stupid”.]

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Filed under Application Mgmt, Azure, Cloud Computing, Everything, IT Systems Mgmt, Mgmt integration, Utility computing, Virtualization