What Is Windows Azure?
Updated: January 15, 2014
Windows Azure is an Internet-scale computing and services platform hosted in data centers managed or supported by Microsoft. It includes a number of separate features with corresponding developer services which can be used individually or together. Use this page as your portal into the library of MSDN technical documentation that supports Windows Azure. For more general information on Windows Azure and each of these features, see the WindowsAzure.com web site.
The following illustration shows a mapping of capabilities to the features that comprise Windows Azure.
You can also view or download the What is Windows Azure Infographic for a slightly different graphical overview of Windows Azure.
If you are running Windows 8 or later, try the Server Posterpedia application. It provides the ability to zoom and interact with numerous posters on various Microsoft products, including Windows Azure.
Getting started with development on Windows Azure
WindowsAzure.com provides tutorials, downloads, and how-to guides that help you get started developing on Windows Azure.
Windows Azure technical documentation
The following sections outline the MSDN documentation available for Windows Azure.
Local development environment
The Windows Azure SDKs for .NET, Node.js, Java, and PHP provide common tools and resources that you use to package, test and deploy your application. The Windows Azure SDK for .NET includes the Windows Azure Tools for Microsoft Visual Studio, which extends Visual Studio to enable the creation, building, packaging, running, and debugging of scalable web applications and services on Windows Azure. The following learning resources are available:
The Windows Azure Management Portal provides access to Cloud Service (hosted service) deployment and management tasks as well as at-a-glance status information that lets you know the overall health of your deployments and accounts. The Management Portal organizes the components of your Windows Azure deployments with constantly refreshed information that is easy to discover and understand. There are two portals available at this time. The New Portal and the older Silverlight-based Portal. Functions in the older portal are being moved to the new one over time. The old portal does not support new features, such as Virtual Machines.
You can run applications on Windows Azure using Windows Azure Web Sites, Cloud Services (formerly hosted services), Virtual Machines (which support IaaS), and Mobile Services. For more information, see the following locations.
Web Sites - Get started for free and scale as you go. Use any tool or operating system to build a web site with ASP.NET, PHP or Node.js and deploy in seconds.
Cloud Services - With Cloud Services, you can quickly deploy and manage multi-tier applications where Windows Azure handles the details: provisioning, load balancing, and health monitoring for continuous availability.
Virtual Machines - With Virtual Machines, you get full control over a server in the cloud, and maintain it as your business requires. Choose from a gallery of Windows Server or Linux images with various preinstalled additional applications.
Mobile Services - Mobile Services is designed to make it easy to create highly-functional mobile apps using Windows Azure.
Data Services provide the ability to store, modify and report on data in Windows Azure. Benefits include manageability, high availability, high scalability, and a familiar development model. The following learning resources are available:
Blobs can store unstructured text or binary data (video, audio and images).
Tables can store large amounts of unstructured non-relational (NoSQL) data.
SQL Database can store large amounts of relational data.
SQL Data Sync enables creating and scheduling regular synchronizations between SQL Database and either on-premises SQL Server(s) or other instances of SQL Database.
SQL Reporting is a cloud-based reporting service built on SQL Server Reporting Services technologies. It allows you to build reporting capabilities into Windows Azure applications. Reports can render on the desktop and remove the need to maintain your own reporting infrastructure. NOTE: SQL Reporting is being deprecated in favor of running SQL reporting services on a Windows Azure Virtual Machine. The documentation here is provided to support existing users only.
HDInsight is based on Apache Hadoop. It simplifies working with big data through integration with tools like Microsoft Office and System Center. Additional information is available at Big Data
Networking services provide general connectivity and routing at the TCP/IP and DNS level.
Windows Azure Virtual Network enables you to provision and manage site-to-site and point-to-site virtual private networks (VPNs) in Windows Azure and to securely link these with on-premises IT infrastructure. It allows you to use Windows Azure as you would a branch office, or as a protected private virtual network in the cloud.
Traffic Manager load-balances incoming traffic across multiple Internet accessible services using DNS-based policies.
App Services - Identity
Windows Azure Active Directory provides multiple services for controlling and using identity in a cloud application.
App Services - Performance
Windows Azure Caching enables you to easily provision a cache in the cloud to be used from any applications or services that could benefit from caching. This includes a very common scenario of session state and output caching in ASP.NET. Caching increases performance by temporarily storing information from other backend sources.
The Content Delivery Network caches Windows Azure blobs and the static content output of compute instances at strategically placed locations to provide maximum bandwidth for delivering content to users.
App Services - Messaging
Storage Queues provide reliable, persistent messaging between application tiers running in Windows Azure. They are part of Windows Azure Storage, which also provides the Blob and Table Storage Services.
Service Bus provides a hosted, secure, and widely available infrastructure for widespread communication, large-scale event distribution, naming, and service publishing. Service Bus provides connectivity options for Windows Communication Foundation (WCF) and other service endpoints, which includes REST endpoints. To learn more about integrating Service Bus into applications, review the EAI and EDI labs. These labs show common integration capabilities (e.g. bridges, transforms, B2B messaging) using Windows Azure Service Bus.
Windows Azure Storage Queues and Service Bus Queues provide different benefits. After reading the overview material for each feature, see Windows Azure Queues and Windows Azure Service Bus Queues - Compared and Contrasted for additional information.
App Services - Media Services
Media Services form an extensible cloud-based platform that enables developers to build scalable media management and delivery applications.