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Windows Azure App Store: Services for Your Cloud Applications

By - Source: Toms IT Pro
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It is convenient for cloud vendors to distinguish their offerings into the usual infrastructure-, platform-, and software-as-a-service categories. When it comes to actually deploying cloud applications, we often combine services from two or more of these categories. For example, a mid-sized retailer running its sales application in the cloud might need several IaaS servers, a PaaS search service as well as a relational database service, and a specialized sales tax calculation service from a SaaS provider. Cloud providers are doing their part to meet this need for multiple components by offering application stores.

Microsoft's Azure has the App Store that lists both data and application services, Google has Technology Partners with software that integrates with various Google cloud offerings, and Amazon’s comparable service has the Amazon Marketplace with offerings ranging from general purpose software (e.g. databases) to niche market products (e.g. energy and sustainability management software). This article takes a look at the Windows Azure App store and offers some tips on getting the most from your cloud provider’s third party application offerings.

On Demand Enterprise Software

One of the key advantages of cloud computing is the ability to provision servers and storage as needed. Almost as important is the ability to provision enterprise software as needed. Before the advent of on-demand cloud computing, businesses needed to install, configure and maintain enterprise applications that are at the heart of their operations. Deploying enterprise resource planning (ERP), customer relationship management (CRM) and relational database management systems (RDBMS) were major undertakings for businesses and career building opportunities for consultants. SaaS and cloud marketplaces are shifting the way we deploy and pay for enterprise applications.

Consider your options in a simple example. If you are a Windows Azure customer and you need to add search capability to your application you could:

  • (a) use text search services provided by your relational database,
  • (b) install, configure and maintain your own Apache Solr or other search software on a cloud server, or
  • (c) you could use LucidWorks Search from Windows Azure App Store

With the LucidWorks Search service you can use up to 5GB of storage, 10,000 documents and 10,000 search queries per month for free; if you exceed those quotas you can pay $25 for an additional 10,000 documents and/or search queries. You also get to avoid system administration overhead associated with setting up and configuring a search server. By opting for the software-as-a-service option, your administration tasks focus more on specifying what content to index and less on how to optimally configure the search software. 

LucidWorks Search is just one example of a number of application and data services available in the Windows Azure App Store. The application service offerings have something for system administrators, developers, and other professionals.

Azure Apps for Systems Administrators

System administrators and managers responsible for paying for cloud services can take advantage of services like Active Cloud Monitoring, which automatically scales your services based on rules you define. In addition to helping you avoid running up your cloud bill unnecessarily, Active Cloud Monitoring provides detailed reports showing you the breakdown of where you are spending your cloud computing budget.

Tuning applications can be a hit or miss process if you do not have the right data. The AppDynamics service is a performance management service that uses an agent to collect performance data and sends it to an AppDynamics Controller running in Windows Azure. A Web-based portal gives you access to the performance data collected from your servers.

Azure Apps for Developers

Developers have a number of services that can reduce their coding burden. Aspera Server on Demand is a high speed data transport service that moves data faster than conventional ftp methods. This kind of service is especially important if you are working with big data or running your data warehouse in the cloud.

If you do not have a database administrator on staff you might want a service like MongoLab or ClearDBMySQL Database. These two services complement the SQL Server offerings from Microsoft by giving customers MySQL-as-a-service and NoSQL-as-a-service options.

Keeping your applications and data secure is difficult. Auth0 provides the option of using your Active Directory, Office 365 or Google Apps Single Sign-On for application authentication.

Azure Data Applications

If crunching numbers is your thing, the Windows Azure App Store has data specialized services that could be of interest. For email marketers, Embarke Email Analytics offers engagement analysis tools to help you craft your message and target your audience.

Sales professionals might get more from D&B Business Insights that allows users to search for companies for lead generation, marketing campaigns, and marketing efforts.

The Cost of Azure Apps

Many of the services in the Windows Azure Store offer a free option that will let you test a service without incurring charges. If you exceed the limits set for free service levels you will typically be charged according to the amount of service you used. In some cases, charges are based on the number of transactions. For example, D&B Business Insights offers 10 transactions for free and then charges $50 for 500, $75 for 1,000 and $100 for 2,500. Other services, like the ClearDB MySQL Database service, bill based on the amount of data stored and the number of connections to the database.

The Windows Azure App Store has limited offerings at the moment, but that could change in the future. If one of the available services meets your needs, consider overall costs as well as functionality when you evaluate your options. Often there are alternatives to what you will find in the App Store.

You can always set up your own database server, install your own TCP optimization software to improve file transfer speeds, or contact another third party to get market data. As you evaluate your options consider the costs of managing your own application services and the cost of integrating a third party service with your application running the Windows Azure cloud.

Dan Sullivan is an author, systems architect, and consultant with over 20 years of IT experience with engagements in systems architecture, enterprise security, advanced analytics and business intelligence. He has worked in a broad range of industries, including financial services, manufacturing, pharmaceuticals, software development, government, retail, gas and oil production, power generation, life sciences, and education.  Dan has written 16 books and numerous articles and white papers about topics ranging from data warehousing, Cloud Computing and advanced analytics to security management, collaboration, and text mining.

See here for all of Dan's Tom's IT Pro articles.