Cloud computing refers to flexible and scalable computing services for which the hardware (and related infrastructure) is owned and managed by someone else. There are many varieties of cloud computing, but they all have certain attributes in common: flexibility, scalability and the ability to rent in small increments.
The most common form of Cloud Computing is called "public cloud": anyone can sign up for a public cloud service and start using resources. Well known examples include Amazon Web Services, Rackspace and Windows Azure.
There is another, significant, cloud model, and that is the "private cloud." Private clouds have the same flexibility and scalability as public clouds, but are restricted for use by a single organization. Private clouds are ideal for organizations who see the value of cloud computing, but require tighter security and controls, based on the sensitive or confidential nature of their data and content.
Private clouds, though, require a lot of effort to provide the necessary services and control mechanisms.
Windows Azure Pack
Windows Azure Pack is the answer to this problem. You can create your own Windows Azure cloud environment on your own servers, using all the same APIs and control mechanisms that are available on the Windows Azure public cloud.
Amazingly, all this extra functionality is a free add-on to Windows Server 2012.
The above image compares Windows Azure and a private cloud built with Windows Server 2012 and Windows Azure Pack. You cannot replicate an entire Azure service, as key elements of the PaaS (Platform as a Service) technologies are not present, including SQL Azure, Web and Worker Roles and implementation specific technologies such as the Azure CDN (Content Delivery Network).
You do have the ability to deliver IaaS (Infrastructure as a Service) features and Windows Azure Websites, which are two key Azure technologies. You still get the ability to deliver a customer portal the same as the Windows Azure management portal, and you have a service portal to define and manage how your private cloud works.
Viewing the above graphic would lead many people to assume that Windows Azure Pack is exactly what Microsoft uses to deliver Windows Azure itself. It’s a good enough assumption to construct a mental model of how you can deliver a private cloud similar to the Azure public cloud for a surprisingly small amount of effort.
Naturally, new technologies and capabilities like this always provide new opportunities to deliver innovative services that failed a cost/benefit analysis before. In that spirit, the rest of this article will discuss three different use cases of Windows Azure Pack. The inquisitive, imaginative and entrepreneurial can probably conjure up another thirty use cases. With any luck, this article will spark some thinking and get those projects underway.
Use Case #1: Create a Private Cloud for Managing Internal Development and Test Resources
Even the smallest software development teams routinely require environments to test software. Some teams use hardware virtualization as a way of creating different environments, but others perform this task in a manual way, with one person in charge of spinning up new Virtual Machines (VMs) and creating new environments.
The advantage that Windows Azure Pack brings is the ability to use the same scripting and API services available for Windows Azure. This means there are many examples to draw from and new tools and open source projects are continually being developed.
You can develop simple Powershell (PS) scripts to create new VMs or new Websites, install packages and have new environments created quickly and easily. Once scripts are created to perform these tasks, implementing into automated build procedures becomes easy. Continuous integration then means committing new code to a source code repository, and having several new test environments fresh and ready for testing.
This advantage is even more pronounced when the production environment for the development work is Windows Azure itself. This means that the tools for creating new instances and scaling can be used across the entire environment.
Note that this is not restricted to just developing software that runs on Windows. The Windows Azure Pack supports MySQL and VMs with other operating systems, like Linux. This development model can be used for many different types of projects.
Use Case #2: Become a Cloud Reseller with Windows Azure Pack
The idea behind Windows Azure Pack for hosting companies is that they can expand the Azure hosting reach beyond the network of datacentres that Microsoft has built (for Azure). The technology provides a hosting company with low-cost, proven technology that fits into a larger ecosystem used worldwide.
This allows the hosting company to apply their expert knowledge in the procurement, racking and setup of servers, and leverage Microsoft’s expertise in developing virtualised environments that are flexible, scalable and extensible.
As with the previous use case, this is not restricted to just hosting of Windows Server or IIS-based websites. The technology can be used to host other platforms and technologies that are not based on Microsoft Windows. For many hosting companies, being technology-agnostic saves having to try and pick winners in advance, and to allow customers to specify the platforms that they are most comfortable using.
Use Case #3: Using Windows Azure Pack to Create a Trial Environment
Customers love trial software. There is no better way to assess software for fit, features and functionality than to put it to use solving the problems you want. It can be difficult to deliver large-scale trials in a cost effective and stable way. Effective trials must be automated, fully-featured, perform well and have a built-in way of converting lookers to customers.
Windows Azure Pack is ideal for delivering a trial environment, particularly for software which requires the creation of a new website. DNN delivers fully-functional trials of the Evoq Content and Evoq Social solutions by leveraging Azure Websites within Windows Azure Pack.
A product such as Evoq Social, an online social community solution, is much easier to demonstrate to potential customers when they can get a feel for using a real site and building their own community. Customers get assigned their own Windows Azure Website, already configured with the Evoq Social or Evoq Content solution, which is theirs to use and modify any way they see fit for the trial period.
Because the trial is based on Windows Azure, the customer can convert that trial into a production Evoq in the Cloud installation, which runs on Windows Azure Cloud Services for performance and scalability.
Further, because DNN is available in a series of different languages, a customer can choose the language of the trial they wish to create. Imagine doing a software trial in a language that’s foreign to you!
The Benefits of Windows Azure Pack for DNN Trials
Leveraging Windows Azure Pack in this way brings several benefits. First, the same provisioning code (which calls Azure APIs) is used for the trial environment and the production cloud environment. It provides customers with a full trial experience, but because Azure Websites can deliver a shared infrastructure mode, allows a balance between active sites and those trials which the customer is not currently using. This ‘overbooking’ of the trial environment by leveraging Azure Websites on Windows Azure Pack would be difficult to achieve otherwise, at least without significant effort.
In some ways, this use case is an amalgam of the prior two use cases. DNN acts as a hosting reseller (by providing free sites) and also provides test sites that can be migrated to production sites using the built-in Azure APIs.
The DNN team built a back-end management system to control the creation and eventual retirement of trials, all based on Windows Azure APIs. In the case of the trial system, the control dashboards use the same API calls, but are answered by the private trials cloud.
Better still, the ability to have a service that continually provisions new trials means that DNN can keep an inventory of trials ready and waiting so that customers can satisfy their need for a trial 30 seconds (or less). From no website to a fully installed and configured solution in less time than it took to read this article - all possible because of Windows Azure Pack.
Are you curious? Want to see for yourself? Visit the Evoq Social Trial signup page, or the Evoq Content Trial signup page and see the process and the results of running on Windows Azure Pack.
I hope this article spurred some thoughts or ideas on how you can make use of Windows Azure Pack.
With powerful and flexible software available as a free addition to Windows Server 2012, Windows Azure Pack is something genuinely new. Whether you wish to use it as a private cloud within your organization, or choose to leverage the power of Azure on your own hardware, it opens up a large array of possibilities. This article has outlined three of those – and hopefully has inspired you to think of many more.
This article was originally posted at CodeProject.