Finally Microsoft announces Windows Azure IaaS role, support for Server App-V

It took exactly one year, but Microsoft finally managed to announce how exactly it will extend its existing Platform-as-a-Service (PaaS) public cloud computing platform, Windows Azure, to provide Infrastructure-as-a-Service (IaaS) capabilities too.

A few minutes ago, during its PDC2010 conference, the company announced the Windows Azure Virtual Machine Role for Windows Server 2008 R2. 
To use it, customers will have to build their virtual machines on premises (probably inside a Hyper-V environment as no on-the-fly conversion capability has been mentioned) and then upload them over the Internet to the Azure servers.
Some time in 2011, Microsoft will also allow customers to build new virtual machines directly from inside the Azure control panel, possibly introducing a content catalog and a lab management facility.

At the beginning Azure will only support Windows Server 2008 R2 as guest operating system, but some time during 2011 such support will be extended to Windows Server 2003 and Windows Server 2008 Service Pack 2.

Microsoft will offer Remote Desktop support for the Azure virtual machines, along with a special security access called Elevated Privileges:

The VM role and Elevated Privileges functionality removes roadblocks that today prevent developers from having full control over their application environment. For small changes such as configuring Internet Information Service (IIS) or installing a Microsoft Software Installer (MSI), Microsoft recommends using the Elevated Privileges admin access feature. This approach is best suited for small changes and enables the developer to retain automated service management at the Guest OS and the application level.

This new access mode will be available before the end of the year.

Microsoft is also working on the virtual networking layer for Azure. It has been designed to support hybrid cloud architectures, allowing to bridge on-premises virtual infrastructures with the IaaS public cloud. The bridging component, called Windows Azure Connect (formerly codename Project Sydney) will be shown as technology preview before the end of 2010, and fully available in the first half of 2011.

Another interesting capability coming to the IaaS component of Azure, is the support for the not-yet-released Server App-V platform.

Microsoft will allow customers to deploy multi-tier, enterprise applications on on-premises Server App-V and then upload them on Azure, just like virtual machines.
The difference is that, in this specific scenario, customers won’t be obliged to build a complete VM. They will be able to use the Worker Role, which allows to upload a virtualized server application on Azure without taking care of the guest operating system environment.
Microsoft  will release a technology preview of this technology before the end of the year and plans to release it in second half of 2011, when the release of Server App-V is expected too.

Customers will have to wait the end of this year to see a public beta of the Azure IaaS component. This may imply that the Virtual Machine role will appear in a future build of the Windows Server 2008 R2 Service Pack 1, which just hit the Release Candidate status, and that is expected for the first half of 2011.