Microsoft adds app, data marketplace to Windows Azure

Cloud platform expanded to take on rivals such as Salesforce.com, Microsoft says at PDC

Microsoft Corp. said on Tuesday that its upcoming Windows Azure cloud computing platform will come with marketplaces for both online apps built to run on Azure as well as datasets that companies can use to build their own apps.

PinPoint.com will host business-oriented apps developed by Microsoft partners, chief software architect Ray Ozzie said during a keynote speech at Microsoft's Professional Developers Conference 2009 (PDC09) in Los Angeles.

PinPoint will compete with Salesforce.com Inc.'s 4-year-old AppExchange online marketplace and other more recently-emerging app stores.

Azure will also host "an open catalog and marketplace for public and commercial data" codenamed Dallas, Ozzie said. Developers can use the data to build their own services and mashups. Dallas is now in Commercial Technical Preview.

Microsoft is also bolstering Azure with management tools for developers running .Net apps on-premises and with Azure that are less sexy, but arguably more essential.

Windows Azure, meanwhile, will officially go into production on January 1, but customers won't be billed until February 1, Ozzie said.

Azure will be hosted at three pairs of data centers: Chicago and San Antonio for North America, Dublin and Amsterdam for Europe, and Singapore and Hong Kong for Asia.

Azure will compete with Salesforce, Amazon.com and many other cloud platform providers.

The key difference is that Azure, rather than dumping the desktop entirely for the Web, keeps the Windows operating system in the equation.

This vision of "three screens and the cloud" will allow developers to build apps that can be reused and delivered via the cloud (Windows Azure), on-premises server (Windows Server) or desktop (Windows 7), depending on what is most convenient or offers the best performance, Ozzie said.

"When it comes to the cloud, bet on Windows," he said.

To demonstrate how far Windows Azure has come, Microsoft enlisted the aid of some traditional antagonists: Silicon Valley startups and the federal government.

San Francisco-based Automattic Inc. is using Azure to host parts of its popular Wordpress blogging platform, said founder Matt Mullenweg.

Another San Franciso startup, Seesmic, is building a Twitter app running on Windows using Microsoft's Silverlight rich media player, said CEO Loic LeMeur.

NASA is releasing 3D imagery from the Mars rover vehicle for free to the general public via the Dallas data feed.

Federal CIO Vivek Kundra said the government plans to accelerate the release of more data to the public. He likened the potential "explosion" of apps to the one that followed after the U.S. government liberalized the availability of GPS data.

To demonstrate that Azure can scale to needs, Microsoft's president of its Server & Tools Division, Bob Muglia, cited its Bing search app, which runs on more than 100,000 servers.

Muglia also announced Project Sydney, which will allow companies to connect their own servers to Azure-based services. Sydney will go into beta next year.

Finally, Muglia announced a beta of an application server for Windows Server called AppFabric.

AppFabric will help developers manage both on-premises servers and Azure cloud-based services. It includes features from the Dublin app server and the Velocity caching technology. AppFabric will go into beta next year.

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