Microsoft to update AppFabric tool set

Microsoft next month will release a set of new components to its Azure AppFabric suite of middleware cloud services that should make it easier for administrators to create and manage cloud applications.

The June release of the Azure AppFabric CTP (Community Technology Preview) will introduce a set of capabilities for building and managing multitier applications from a single console, said Microsoft manager Seetharaman Harikrishnan, Microsoft general manager in the application server group.

Harikrishnan introduced the new technologies during a session at the Microsoft TechEd conference, being held this week in Atlanta.

AppFabric is Microsoft's next-generation middleware platform, designed to allow organizations manage a set of applications that can be run either in-house or on an external implementation of the Microsoft Azure cloud service.

Harikrishnan presented AppFabric as a way to simplify the management of multitier applications. In particular, administrators have had a difficult time managing the middle tier of the classic three-tier applications, Harikrishnan said.

Many organizations have standardized the front end of their applications, usually by using a Web server-based browser interface, he explained. And they have standardized on the back-end databases. But the middle tier remains a management headache. This layer, which Microsoft refers to as middleware, is where the application logic exists, as well as the connecting supporting tools such as user authentication, workflow and the messaging services.

"This middle tier has a left lot to be desired. Each of these [components] has a unique way in which it is bought, developed, deployed, configured, monitored and managed ... This is the problem we call the problem of the silos," Harikrishnan said.

Azure AppFabric could radically simplify this middle tier, he said, namely by offering a set of services that are pre-configured to work together, allowing developers to compose applications merely by choosing the appropriate services.

The Azure AppFabric, part of the Azure platform, already consists of a number of different products, including an access control service, a service bus, a caching mechanism and an integration service, the last of which leverages many of the capabilities in Microsoft Biztalk Server.

The new set of capabilities helps simplify the procedure of cobbling together these other services to form applications. "It should be as easy for you to discover these capabilities and just use them," Harikrishnan said.

The new components include AppFabric Developer Tools and AppFabric Application Manager. The developer tools come in the form of an add-on to the Visual Studio. It will allow developers to compose applications by pulling together different services on a palette. The AppFabric Application Manager is the runtime component, which can monitor the operation and performance of each applications, as well as the base services it uses.

Also necessary to this setup is a new set of .NET Framework extensions, called the Composition Model, which provides the means to describe and stitch together the components in an application.

During TechEd, Microsoft also announced that the company had released a new preview version of the AppFabric service bus as part of the May CTP. The version will allow connectivity through REST (Representational State Transfer) or HTTP APIs (application programming interfaces). Java and PHP-based applications, for instance, could communicate with AppFabric applications through these APIs.

The company expects to formally release AppFabric in 2012, though it has been releasing CTPs over the past few years to help IT professionals learn the new technology.

Joab Jackson covers enterprise software and general technology breaking news for The IDG News Service. Follow Joab on Twitter at @Joab_Jackson. Joab's e-mail address is Joab_Jackson@idg.com

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