Microsoft Azure tools aim to help companies manage hybrid clouds

At its annual Tech Ed conference, Microsoft has released a range of hybrid cloud administration tools and services

For the kick-off of its annual Tech Ed user conference, being held this week in Houston, Microsoft has released a bevy of tools and services to help administrators connect their internal operations to Microsoft's Azure cloud.

"This is about leveraging assets that organizations already have in their data centers," said Brad Anderson, corporate vice president of Microsoft's cloud and enterprise division.

This year's conference will emphasize the hybrid cloud, in which an enterprise can run some operations in house, while shifting others to cloud services. Nearly half of large enterprises will have hybrid cloud deployments by 2017, IT analyst firm Gartner estimated.

Many of the services Microsoft unveiled this week build on Microsoft's base of IaaS (infrastructure as a service) and PaaS (platform as a service) offerings.

Anderson called these new Azure offerings "enterprise completers," Anderson said.

"These are the things that organizations want to have to give them assurance and confidence," of the cloud, he said.

Microsoft has tried to simplify cloud storage. The company now offers a new way of accessing files, called Microsoft Azure Files, that allows files to be shared by multiple virtual machines by using the standard Server Message Block (SMB) Protocol used by Windows Server and Windows desktop machines. "It's like a shared drive in Azure that all the virtual machines can take advantage of," Anderson said.

The company has also unveiled a set of virtual machines aimed for heavy computational duties, called Compute Intensive Virtual Machines for Azure. "These are larger virtual machines with faster links within Azure," Anderson said. The service can speed connectivity through the use of RDMA (Remote direct memory access), which can be extended across different regions.

Microsoft also previewed a new service for sharing data and functional across different departments within an enterprise, using APIs (application programming interfaces). The Azure API Management "allows you to expose a set of APIs in the cloud. It allows you to extend the data center out to the cloud," Anderson said.

Next month, Microsoft will also preview an updated version of its disaster recovery services, which will be called Microsoft Azure Site Recovery (now called Hyper-V Recovery Manager). The updated service will allow users to replicate and recover virtual machines and services to Azure in the event of an outage at their primary data center.

"You set up recovery rules, and have your virtual machines completely replicated in Azure. When there is some kind of issue, they will fail over to Azure," Anderson said. "It's very simple and has very powerful automation capabilities. Organizations will be able to provide disaster recovery for all their applications, just not a subset of capabilities, which is what we find now."

Microsoft is also extending its antimalware services to Azure as well.

A new service, Microsoft Antimalware for Azure, now available in preview, is designed to protect virtual machines and cloud services from attack. The company is also integrating Symantec and Trend Micro antivirus technology into Azure virtual machines.

Also on the security front, Microsoft will start in July to encrypt every file stored in the SharePoint Online and OneDrive for Business Office 365 services with a unique key, in an effort to prevent unauthorized users from viewing these files.

Office 365 E3 enterprise customers will also have the option of using a data loss prevention service, now available in Microsoft Exchange, that can restrict who can see content based on predefined policies.

On the mobile front, Microsoft is extending its Enterprise Mobility Suite, announced in March. Microsoft is offering Intune, a management tool for small and mid-size businesses, to provide a way for administrators to manage iOS and Android line-of-business apps.

"We want to enable organizations to make their users productive on the devices they love, while keeping the company secure," Anderson said.

The company unveiled, in preview mode, Microsoft Azure RemoteApp, which allows Windows applications to be accessed by a range of non-Microsoft devices.

Helping developers work with non-Microsoft devices, the company will issue a preview of an integration between Visual Studio and Apache Cordova, a platform to build cross-platform applications using HTML and JavaScript.

Microsoft also released a preview of the next version of the ASP.NET, a runtime environment for Web applications based on the Microsoft .Net framework. The company is also open sourcing a version of .Net, called vNext, which will be managed by the .Net Foundation.

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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