Microsoft Launches Azure Management Portal, Debuts New Services For Mobile And Web Developers

While Microsoft's Windows Azure public cloud has lots of promise, most channel partners haven't had much experience using it.

But after Microsoft unveiled a fusillade of 44 new Azure features and services at its Build conference on Thursday, many of them aimed at easing development of mobile and web apps, that's likely to change.

Last year, Microsoft shipped more than 300 features and releases for Azure, and it'll release even more this year, Scott Guthrie, executive vice president of Microsoft's Cloud and Enterprise group, said in a keynote at Build.

[Related: Sources: Microsoft In Talks To Acquire Mobile App Startup Xamarin ]

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The big, new addition is the Azure Preview Portal, which gives cloud developers a single place to build and manage their apps. Azure is an Infrastructure-as-a-Service and a Platform-as-a-Service, and the Azure Preview Portal is designed to handle both.

Using Azure Preview Portal, developers can choose from a variety of resources for building apps, as well as manage project teams and track their progress. After the app goes live, Azure Preview Portal keeps track of traffic and performance, as well as billing and projected costs.

Azure lets customers run both Windows and Linux virtual machines in the cloud, and they can run those VMs as standalone servers or join them to a network. Now Microsoft is making it easier for developers to create and manage VMs using Visual Studio, Guthrie said.

Azure developers now can set up VMs using Puppet and Chef configuration management tools, as well as Microsoft's own PowerShell tool. Guthrie said this makes it easy to spin up a server farm in Azure, and automatically deploy and manage these VMs.

Microsoft Technical Fellow in the Cloud and Enterprise Division Mark Russinovich demoed another new feature that lets developers remotely debug code running in the Azure cloud using Visual Studio.

Microsoft also is adding Java language support to Azure Web Sites, its PaaS offering. Developers already could write apps with .NET, node.js, PHP and Python, and now they'll be able to use Java as well.

"This enables you as a developer to push basically any type of app into Azure and host any number of users in the cloud," Guthrie said.

Auto-scaling, a feature Microsoft previewed at Build last June, which lets server capacity scale up and down depending on the level of demand at a given time, is now generally available. In addition to enabling an app to handle large traffic spikes, this feature saves customers money by using fewer VMs when traffic slows, said Guthrie.

Last but not least, Microsoft introduced several new features for mobile developers, including single sign-on with Active Directory, offline data sync and remote debugging, among others. Microsoft also released a software development kit (SDK) that developers can use to integrate Active Directory into iOS and Android apps.

Microsoft claims it now has 57 percent of Fortune 500 companies using Azure in some capacity, as well as 1 million cloud-based SQL databases and 300 million Azure Active Directory users. After this week's flurry of new features and services, the figures Microsoft trots out at Build next year will be even more impressive.