Tag Archives: amazon

Microsoft SQL Azure versus SQL Server on Amazon AWS

Amazon RDS for Microsoft SQL Server offers cloud instances of SQL Server. Amazon’s offering even supports “License Mobility”, Microsoft jargon that lets volume licensing customers use an existing SQL Server license for an Amazon’s instance. But how does Amazon’s cloud SQL Server compare with Microsoft’s own offering, SQL Database running on Azure?

Peter Marriott has posted on the subject here (registration required). The key point: despite the obvious similarity (both are SQL Server), these two offerings are radically different. Amazon’s RDS SQL is more IaaS (infrastructure as a service) than PaaS (platform as a service). You choose an edition of SQL Server and rent one or more instances. The advantage is that you get full SQL Server, just like the on-premise editions but hosted by Amazon.

Microsoft’s Azure-hosted SQL on the other hand is more abstracted. You do not rent a SQL Server instance; you rent a database. Under the covers Microsoft provides multiple redundant copies of the data, and if traffic increases, it should scale automatically, though the database size is limited to 150GB. The downside is that not all features of SQL Server are available, as I discovered when migrating data.

Marriott adds that SQL Azure supports encrypted connections and has a more usable administration interface.

A further twist: you can also install SQL Server on an Azure Virtual Machine, which would get you something more like the Amazon approach though I suspect the cost will work out higher.

Amazon web service APIs: a kind of cloud standard?

I am at the Cloud Computing World Forum in London where one of the highlights was a keynote yesterday from Amazon CTO Werner Vogels. Amazon, oddly enough, does not have a stand here; yet the company dominates the IAAS (Infrastructure as a service) market and has moved beyond that into more PAAS (Platform as a service) type services.


Vogels said that the reason for Amazon’s innovation in web services was its low margin business model. This was why, he said, none of the established enterprise software companies had been able to innovate in the same way.

He added that Amazon did not try to lock its customers in:

If this doesn’t work for you, you should be able to work away. You should be in charge, not the enterprise software company.

Sounds good; but Amazon has its own web services API and if you build on it there is an element of lock-in. Or is there? I was intrigued by a remark made by Huawei’s Head of Enterprise R&D John Roese at a recent cloud computing seminar:

We think there is an imperative in the industry to settle on standardised interfaces. There should be no more of this rubbish where people think they can differentiate based on proprietary interfaces in the cloud. A lot of suppliers are not very interested in this because they lose the stickiness of the solution, but we will not see massive cloud adoption without that portability. 

But what are these standardised interfaces? Roese said that Huawei uses Amazon APIs. For example, the Huawei Cloud Storage Engine:

The CSE boasts a high degree of openness. It supports S3-like interfaces and exposes the internal storage service enabler to 3rd party applications.

There is also Eucalyptus, open source software for private clouds that uses Amazon APIs. Is the Amazon web services API becoming a de-facto standard, and what does Amazon itself think about third parties adopting its API?

I asked Vogels, whose response was not encouraging for the likes of Huawei treating it as a standard. The question I put: is the adoption of Amazon’s API by third parties influencing his company in its maintenance and evolution of those APIs?

It is not influencing us. It is influencing them. Who is adopting our APIs? We licensed Eucalyptus. People ask us about standardisation. I’d rather focus on innovation. If others adopt our APIs, I don’t know, we rather focus on innovation.

The lack of interest in standardisation does undermine Vogels’ comments about the freedom of its customers to walk away, though lock-in is not so bad if your use of public cloud is primarily at the IAAS level (though you may be locked into the applications that run on it).

Another mitigating factor is that third parties can wrap cloud management APIs to make one cloud look like another, even if the underlying API is different. Flexiant, which offers cloud orchestration software, told me that it can do this successfully with, for example, Amazon’s API and that of Microsoft Azure. Perhaps, then, standardisation of cloud APIs matters less than it first appears.

What next for the Nook as Microsoft invests in Barnes & Noble’s digital business?

Today Microsoft and Barnes & Noble announced a partnership to sell eBooks, based on the existing Banes & Noble digital bookstore and eBook reader called the Nook.

The new subsidiary, referred to in this release as Newco, will bring together the digital and College businesses of Barnes & Noble. Microsoft will make a $300 million investment in Newco at a post-money valuation of $1.7 billion in exchange for an approximately 17.6% equity stake. Barnes & Noble will own approximately 82.4% of the new subsidiary, which will have an ongoing relationship with the company’s retail stores. Barnes & Noble has not yet decided on the name of Newco.

In addition, Barnes & Noble, which was in litigation with Microsoft over the Redmond company’s claim to royalties on Android, has agreed to a “royalty-bearing license” for the Nook eReader and tablets. Both the Nook Color and the Nook Tablet are based on Android.


Another detail is that there will be a Nook application for Windows 8:

One of the first benefits for customers will be a NOOK application for Windows 8

though the release does not state whether or not this will be a Metro app. I would guess that it is, since otherwise it would not work on Windows RT (the ARM version of Windows), but nothing can be taken for granted.

Note that Barnes & Noble already has Nook apps for iPad, iPhone, Android, Windows and Mac, but not for Windows Phone.

It is an intriguing deal. Has Microsoft just taken a 17.6% stake in an Android company, or is there some plan in the works to base a future Nook on Windows?

As an attendee at developer conferences, I regularly see the Nook developer evangelists, and had a look at last year’s Adobe Max. Barnes & Noble claim that Nook apps sell relatively well, compared to apps on the official Google Play market, because Nook customers expect to pay for their content. The Nook is not an officially Google-blessed Android device, so has no access to the Play market.

If a future Nook is Windows-based, Barnes & Noble will have a tricky time explaining to developers why they will have to port their apps.

Overall this is a hard deal to interpret. Barnes & Noble was a thorn in Microsoft’s side with its resistance to Android royalties, a thorn which has now been removed, but what else does it signify? You would have thought there would have been a Nook app for Windows 8 anyway, unless it is a complete flop.

Microsoft results: old business model still humming, future a concern

Microsoft has published its latest financials. Here is my at-a-glance summary:

Quarter ending March 31st 2012 vs quarter ending March 31st 2011, $millions

Segment Revenue Change Profit Change
Client (Windows + Live) 4624 +177 2952 +160
Server and Tools 4572 +386 1738 +285
Online 707 +40 -479 +297
Business (Office) 5814 +485 3770 +457
Entertainment and devices 1616 -319 -229 -439

What is notable? Well, Windows 7 is still driving Enterprise sales, but more striking is the success of Microsoft’s server business. The company reports “double-digit” growth for SQL Server and more than 20% growth in System Center. This seems to be evidence that the company’s private cloud strategy is working; and from what I have seen of the forthcoming Server 8, I expect it to continue to work.

Losing $229m in entertainment and devices seems careless though the beleaguered Windows Phone must be in there too. Windows Phone is not mentioned in the press release.

Overall these are impressive figures for a company widely perceived as being overtaken by Apple, Google and Amazon in the things that matter for the future: mobile, internet and cloud.

At the same time, those “things that matter” are exactly the areas of weakness, which must be a concern.

Microsoft’s platform nearly invisible at QCon London 2012

QCon London ended yesterday. It was the biggest London QCon yet, with around 1200 developers and a certain amount of room chaos, but still a friendly atmosphere and a great opportunity to catch up with developers, vendors, and industry trends.

Microsoft was near-invisible at QCon. There was a sparsely attended Azure session, mainly I would guess because QCon attendees do not see that Azure has any relevance to them. What does it offer that they cannot get from Amazon EC2, Google App Engine, Joyent or another niche provider, or from their own private clouds?

Mark Rendle at the Azure session did state that Node.js runs better on Windows (and Azure) than on Linux. However he did not have performance figure to hand. A quick search throws up these figures from Node.js inventor Ryan Dahl: 

  v 0.6.0 (Linux) v 0.6.0 (Windows)
http_simple.js /bytes/1024 6263 r/s 5823 r/s
io.js read 26.63 mB/s 26.51 mB/s
io.js write 17.40 mB/s 33.58 mB/s
startup.js 49.6 ms 52.04 ms

These figures are more “nothing to choose between them” than evidence for better performance, but since 0.6.0 was the first Windows release it is possible that it has swung in its favour since. It is a decent showing for sure, but there are other more important factors when choosing a cloud platform: cost, resiliency, services available and so on. Amazon is charging ahead; why choose Azure?

My sense is that developers presume that Azure is mainly relevant to Microsoft platform businesses hosting Microsoft platform applications; and I suspect that a detailed analysis would bear out that presumption despite the encouraging figures above. That said, Azure seems to me a solid though somewhat expensive offering and one that the company has undersold.

I have focused on Azure because QCon tends to be more about the server than the client (though there was  a good deal of mobile this year), and at enterprise scale. It beats me why Microsoft was not exhibiting there, as the attendees are an influential lot and exactly the target audience, if the company wants to move beyond its home crowd.

I heard little talk of Windows 8 and little talk of Windows Phone 7,  though Nokia sponsored some of the catering and ran a hospitality suite which unfortunately I was not able to attend.

Nor did I get to Tomas Petricek’s talk on asynchronous programming in F#, though functional programming was hot at QCon last year and I would guess he drew a bigger audience than Azure managed.

Microsoft is coming from behind in cloud -  Infrastructure as a Service and/or Platform as a Service – as well as in mobile.

I should add the company is, from what I hear, doing better with its Software as a Service cloud, Office 365; and of course I realise that there are plenty of Microsoft-platform folk who attend other events such as the company’s own BUILD, Tech Ed and so on.


This is the basis for the claim that node.js runs better on Windows:

IOCP supports Sockets, Pipes, and Regular Files.
That is, Windows has true async kernel file I/O.
(In Unix we have to fake it with a userspace thread pool.)

from Dahl’s presentation on the Node roadmap at NodeConf May 2011.

PHP Developer survey shows dominance of mobile, social media and cloud

Zend, a company which specialises in PHP frameworks and tools, has released the results of a developer survey from November 2011.

The survey attracted 3,335 respondents drawn, it says, from “enterprise, SMB and independent developers worldwide.” I have a quibble with this, since I believe the survey should state that these were PHP developers. Why? Because I have an email from November which asked me to participate and said:

Zend is taking the pulse of PHP developers. What’s hot and what matters most in your view of PHP?

There is a difference between “developers” and “PHP developers”, and much though I love PHP the survey should make this clear. Nevertheless, If you participated, but mainly use Java or some other language, your input is still included. Later the survey states that “more than 50% of enterprise developers and more than 65% of SMB developers surveyed report spending more than half of their time working in PHP.” But if they are already identified as PHP developers, that is not a valuable statistic.

Caveat aside, the results make good reading. Some highlights:

  • 66% of those surveyed are working on mobile development.
  • 45% are integrating with social media
  • 41% are doing cloud-based development

Those are huge figures, and demonstrate how far in the past was the era when mobile was some little niche compared to mainstream development. It is the mainstream now – though you would get a less mobile-oriented picture if you surveyed enterprise developers alone. Similar thoughts apply to social media and cloud deployment.

The next figures that caught my eye relate to cloud deployment specifically.

  • 30% plan to use Amazon
  • 28% will use cloud but are undecided which to use
  • 10% plan to use Rackspace
  • 6% plan to use Microsoft Azure
  • 5% have another public cloud in mind (Google? Heroku?)
  • 3% plan to use IBM Smart Cloud

The main message here is: look how much business Amazon is getting, and how little is going to giants like Microsoft, IBM and Google. Then again, these are PHP developers, in which light 6% for Microsoft Azure is not bad – or are these PHP developer who also work in .NET?

I was also interested in the “other languages used” section. 82% use JavaScript, which is no surprise given that PHP is a web technology, but more striking is that 24% also use Java, well ahead of C/C++ at 17%, C# at 15% and Python at 11%.

Finally, the really important stuff. 86% of developers listen to music while coding, and the most popular artists are:

  1. Metallica
  2. = Pink Floyd and Linkin Park


HTML5 scorecard: Amazon Kindle Fire weak, iOS 5 great, IE10 preview one of the best

The Sencha blog has a great series of posts on HTML5 support on various devices. This is of direct interest to Sencha because its products are JavaScript and CSS application frameworks, Sencha Touch for mobile and ExtJS for any browser. The latest post is on the Amazon Kindle Fire – and it is weak:

The Amazon Kindle Fire doesn’t seem designed to run HTML5 apps as a primary goal. It does a good job of displaying ordinary web pages and its resolution and rendering capabilities meet that need well. But there are too many sharp edges, performance issues, and missing HTML5 features for us to recommend that any developer create web apps primarily for the Kindle Fire. The iPad 2 running iOS 5 continues to be the tablet to beat, with the PlayBook a respectable runner-up in HTML5 capabilities.

Part of the problem is that the Fire runs Android 2.3.4 (Gingerbread) which has a weaker browser than later versions. That is not the only source of disappointment though. According to Sencha’s Michael Mullany, the GPU is not used for hardware acceleration of browser content, the JavaScript timer is laggy, there is no embedded HTML5 video (videos launch in a separate player), and CSS corners are not properly anti-aliased.

But what about the Kindle’s cloud-accelerated browsing that we heard so much about when it was announced? This is the biggest disappointment:

One of the main selling points of the Kindle browser is supposed to be its cloud-caching and pipelined HTTP connection that uses the SPDY protocol. This does seem to speed up normal page browsing a little, but it’s not very noticeable and we didn’t test this rigorously. But for HTML5 web apps, where code is downloaded and executed, there doesn’t seem to be any performance difference when we tested with acceleration on and off. It doesn’t appear as if client JavaScript is executed on the server-side at all, so the Kindle does not seem to have Opera Mini-style server-side execution. And SunSpider scores were essentially the same when accelerated browsing was turned on or off.

Moving on from Kindle, it is interesting but not surprising to see a great report for HTML5 in Apple’s iOS 5. Less expected though is a big thumbs-up for HTML5 in Microsoft’s IE10 preview on Windows 8:

Simply put, (and with the caveat that we were running on the notably overpowered developer preview hardware) the IE10 HTML5 experience is one of the best we’ve seen on any platform to date. After a decade of web neglect, Microsoft is back with a vengeance.


The main caveat is the absence of WebGL. Microsoft is supporting its own 3D graphics library.

Another worry for Microsoft is simply the level of hostility towards the company and IE in particular, among the developer and designer community it so much wants to reach. You can get a flavour of this from some of the comments to Mullany’s post, for example:

I never really like Windows and I absolutely despise Internet Explorer. There are so many exceptions in code to be made for Internet Explorer that i stopped trying so hard to make it look the same as other browsers. Hopefully, IE 10 will stop all of these exceptions and weird additions that are made to websites that make everything instantly awful so I can actually go back to trying to make things look nice in IE. It’s really sad though that so many people use Windows and IE that we cannot ditch it for a better system and better browser.

What about Android? The most recent offering covered in the Sencha series is Motorola Xoom which is a disaster:

We were excited about the first true Android operating system for tablets and had high hopes for a mobile browser that was as powerful as the platform. Sadly, the Xoom and Honeycomb are a real disappointment. We found consistent and reproducible issues in CSS3 Animations and CSS3 Transitions among other things. We had issues where the browser either hung or crashed. Regular scrolling was slow or below full framerate. We had issues where media playback failed or performed incorrectly. At times it felt like we were using a preproduction device, but we bought our test device from a Verizon Wireless store.

I have a hunch that the latest Galaxy Tab might fare better. Sencha did like the HTML5 support in the BlackBerry PlayBook though.

With Adobe Flash now in decline on mobile devices (Adobe is no longer working on the mobile Flash player) HTML5 support is all-important for rich browser-hosted apps; I will be watching with interest for future Sencha reports.

Amazon Silk: fast cloud-powered browser, or a new way to mine your data?

Amazon announced its new range of Kindle devices today and the web is buzzing with debate about the impact of the new Android-based Kindle Fire tablet on Apple and others.

Amazon knows how to pile high and sell cheap, and can make money from content even if it gives away the hardware, so it is a strong contender in this space.

The real innovation announced today though was in the web browser. Amazon announced Silk, which splits the browser between your Kindle Fire and EC2 (Elastic Compute Cloud).


Amazon’s point: it can hold a massive cache of web content on EC2, as well as performing common-sense optimizations like scaling images to an appropriate size before sending them to your device.

Is this really new? Much of it sounds familiar, if you know about caching and proxies. Nevertheless, Amazon is in a strong position with its large cloud resource, and can design the web browser specifically for its cloud proxy. In addition, it knows the exact size and capability of the device. And perhaps its smart engineers have come up with better ways to cache. One feature is predictive caching – sending down the page it things you will visit next, before you actually go there.

There are some hard problems, as I have found in trying to optimize my own web site. Caching dynamic content, so that PHP script does not get executed by every browser request, is an obvious thing to do; but web pages draw content from multiple sources, including scripts that serve ad content that is meant to be targeted for the specific viewer. Optimizing that is harder.

It does also occur to me that a side-effect of Silk is that every single bit of browsing you do will go through Amazon and could potentially be mined for data about your browsing habits. Amazon, naturally, is well-placed to send you related ads from its own retail site. Amazon has not mentioned this aspect, but I am sure it has been thought about.

Which Microsoft cloud? Windows Server 8 shows Azure is not everything

I was fortunate to attend a two-day drilldown into what is coming in Windows Server 8 last week, just before the BUILD conference under way in Anaheim, California. It is an impressive release, with two things standing out for me.

One is that Microsoft has successfully re-engineered Windows Server so that it is both sufficiently modular that you can transition from Server Core to full Server and back without reinstall, and also sufficiently detached from the Windows GUI that everything runs and can be configured without the need to log on to the Windows desktop on the server itself. This is a huge achievement.

Second, much of the engineering in Server 8 is focussed on making it better for cloud hosting. This the focus of changes in both Hyper-V and IIS, isolation of virtual networks, proper bandwidth and CPU quotas and throttling, and the ability to move VMs freely between hosts without taking them offline, and to replicate them for failover purposes. You can read more in my piece on The Register.

The question this raises for me is about Windows Server clouds and Azure. Of course Azure runs on Windows Server, but Azure is a platform, all the VMs are stateless, and when you use Azure you are buying into a whole set of services that might or might not match your needs. At a developer event yesterday, one explained how he could not use Azure because he needed to install a third-party application. The Hyper-V role helps a little, but it is not ideal as you still need to solve the stateless problem; at any time, changes you make to the server may be reverted.

If you simply rent plain Windows Server VMs in the cloud, you lose some of the benefits of cloud computing since you are responsible for everything about how the server is configured and maintained; but you also get complete freedom to set it up as you want.

One of the issues with moving from running your own Exchange and SharePoint, for example, to a cloud-hosted service like Office 365 is that you lose control of your destiny. If the service goes down, you have to beg and plead with support to get information and to speed recovery.

Now consider a scenario in which you have your Exchange and SharePoint on hosted Hyper-V VMs with replication (now coming in Server 8) to an alternate provider such as Amazon Web Services, or to your own on-premise servers. If the service goes down, you failover to the replicas.

Another compelling idea relates to live migration. Imagine you have a VM running on premise, and want to move it to the cloud. Without interruption of service, you could in principle migrate it from on-premise to the cloud and back at will. You need a fast connection of course, but this aspect is constantly improving.

The bottom line: plain Windows Server on a VM has many attractions versus an entire platform like Azure.

The snag is, Microsoft does not offer this type of hosting at the moment. Well, that is not necessarily a snag depending on what you think about hosting with Microsoft; but for some there is considerable reassurance in hosting with a company of Microsoft’s size, and which should in theory have the best understanding of what it takes to host Windows Server.

My guess is that Microsoft will either add this capability to Azure – without the limitations of the Hyper-V role, but with replication and failover – or else develop a new cloud service alongside Azure for this purpose.

My further guess is that it would be popular, possibly more so than Azure is today.

Amazon entices Android developers with $50 incentive

Amazon is offering Android developers $50 of AWS (Amazon Web Services) credit if they submit an app to the Amazon Android app store.

Although the announcement refers to apps that actually make use of AWS, this does not seem to be a pre-condition:

September 7 – November 15: Android developers who submit an app that is approved to the Amazon Appstore for Android through October 15 will receive a $50 promotional code towards the use of AWS products and services

The move ties in with reports of Amazon developing its own Android-based tablet/Kindle. Exactly what Amazon will offer is still under wraps.

Amazon is an interesting contender in the mobile wars because it has its own instant ecosystem – millions of customers who are already signed up with accounts and stored credit card details. Add in Kindle eBooks, the MP3 store, and the Amazon Instant Video Store for streaming video, and it amounts to a comprehensive content offering that approaches that of Apple.

The AWS element is also significant, and in this respect Amazon is ahead of Apple. Of course there is nothing to stop you using AWS with apps for iOS or other platforms, though there is synergy when it comes to payments.

The relationship with Google is interesting, in that Google controls Android but Amazon is not hooking into Google services or the official Android Marketplace. Amazon is showing no sign of developing its own search engine though, so Google will still get some benefit if Amazon devices are popular, provided Google remains the default for search.