Into the Azure?

Like most who attended the Microsoft Professional Developers Conference (PDC) in LA just before Christmas, my head is still churning over all the implications of what was said, shown and promised there. I’ve been playing with the development tools and the hosting framework, and it’s clear that this system software is going to deliver an extraordinary set of capabilities when it ships towards the end of this year. As always, though, it’s a good idea to step back from all the technology, the code generators and the whizzy demos, to ask some of the fundamental business questions that have been worrying me since I flew back from LA. These aren’t questions that are confined to Microsoft’s Azure platform, either: the very same business issues will affect anyone who’s offering software as a service (SAAS) via a Cloud environment.

Into the Azure?

For example, under whose legal jurisdiction is all this stuff running? If I’m a UK company selling to UK customers then I don’t necessarily want part of my business activity to be construed under the laws of Washington State, US. Safe Harbour simply isn’t going to be good enough to reassure me in such matters: what if the FBI decides it wants to look at my business in some detail and, lo and behold, my business service happens to be running on a computer held in a datacenter within their jurisdiction? How is extraterritoriality going to apply?

All of these are difficult questions to answer, and I’ve fired them off to Microsoft people who are supposed to get back to me with responses. I’ve been promised news by next month, hopefully coinciding with announcements that will be made at the MIX09 conference to be held in Las Vegas in March, so I’m going to hold off discussing this matter until I receive those answers.

I’m also going to be spending some time with my ISP this month, because Richard at tells me he has some interesting possibilities for faster and more reliable connectivity than the dual ADSL Max lines that I use at present. This is, of course, another area in which the SAAS concept will stand or fall: we need totally reliable business communication links with proper SLAs (Service Level Agreements) in place before we dare to send all our business processes offshore and into the Cloud. I’m also pushing Microsoft to tell me just what plans it has for making announcements in conjunction with suppliers such as BT and the other telcos. Difficult questions on top of tough questions, but we have to be brave enough to stand firm amid the torrent of hype and get some proper reassurances before we take the leap. More next month, I hope.

Windows Home Server upgrade

It all started rather badly, but came good in the end. Microsoft’s Windows Home Server (WHS) platform has been best implemented so far in Hewlett-Packard’s rather elegant box that holds four SATA hard drives (plus more storage via rear connectors), but this device didn’t get off to a great start and didn’t show Microsoft’s software in a clever light, either. A key feature of WHS is the ability to just add more disk drives to grow the storage pool – no-one likes partitions and no-one likes hard storage limits (adding an extra disk and seeing it appear as yet another drive letter is so 1980s, don’t you think?)

Unfortunately, NTFS – the file system in Windows since FAT32 was laid to rest – doesn’t support dynamic resizing, or rather it does but only within the confines of the same physical disk. When you add a second disk there isn’t much you can do – you can add it as a mount point, but your users understandably become confused if c:\mystuff shows 20GB free while c:\mystuff\morestuff has 340GB free… This is caused by \morestuff actually being a mount point from another volume into the c:\mystuff space. And no, I’m not surprised you haven’t encountered this yet, because most people have ignored this clunky feature for obvious reasons.

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