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Microsoft gives developers a sneak peek into Azure updates

Here's a look at three of the Azure-related projects developers got a glimpse of at Build, including a new open source project.

SEATTLE -- Microsoft developers at Build got a sneak peek of what's cooking in Redmond, including possible Azure updates, an open source project called Como and extensions to Azure IoT Central.

The Sneak Peek session track at the Build conference enables Microsoft to fine-tune its plans via feedback from the would-be early adopters. Here's a look at three that hold particular interest for developers involved with Azure updates.

Project Como

Microsoft has hatched an open source project called Como, which is geared around the composition of cloud-native applications. Como is supposed to work like familiar code-based package managers, but evolved for the cloud-native world.

Developers will get an abstraction layer for declaring their code's external dependencies, such as a database. Once the app is live, Como gives operators tools to manage how app components are updated and secured via prebuilt modules, rather than more complicated wire-up methods, according to Microsoft.

Ultimately, Como is aimed at teams that have to wrangle large amounts of application components across a series of environments. A more formal rollout is planned for the open source project soon, presenters said.

One session attendee said his company has traditionally run web apps on its own servers, but is keen on migrating workloads and building new apps on Azure going forward.

"It's really the ability for things like extended disaster recovery, and the ease and ability to scale up and scale out," said Scott Bradford, software development manager at U.S. Anesthesia Partners, a healthcare provider based in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. "But that's definitely not coming without some challenges. We've got a lot of staff that have been building on-prem, server-based applications for a long time and we've got to get them up to speed on Azure."

As for Como, "[Microsoft] presented some ideas for maybe reducing some of that complexity, but it doesn't mean that complexity goes away," he added. "This is a tool that's well worth having, but there's probably a lot of ways to skin that cat."

The future of IoT SaaS apps

Microsoft plans to add a series of extensions to Azure IoT Central, its SaaS platform for rapid development of IoT applications without the need to manage infrastructure.

While the premise of IoT Central is that it offers a simplified way to build IoT apps, Microsoft wants to make the platform more sophisticated via additional APIs for device management, data and visualization, app provisioning and user management, according to the presentation at Build.

[Como] is a tool that's well worth having, but there's probably a lot of ways to skin that cat.
Scott BradfordSoftware development manager, U.S. Anesthesia Partners

Connectors for Power BI, Dynamics, MuleSoft, SAP, Azure Data Lake and SQL are also in the works. Finally, Microsoft is fine-tuning Azure IoT's development environment. It's possible that both a Power Apps-style experience and an IDE-based one via a VS Code plugin will be available on an ongoing basis.

Flex has been building out a SaaS IoT platform based on Microsoft's technology for several years, said Alan Lindsay, senior director at the large electronics manufacturer, which was previously named Flextronics.

"What we find with our customers is they want the cost of device connectivity really to go down to pennies," said Lindsay, who attended the Build session. "Commoditizing and building a SaaS solution like this allows us to provide it at a lower cost."

"The roadmap is great -- the APIs coming down the line," he said of Microsoft's IoT Central plans. "I'm excited. I just want it all now."

RPaaS plan looks to broaden Azure's back-end services

Today, Azure includes more than 150 services, or resources, for building applications. Only about 15% of these were created by partners, Microsoft presenters said at another Sneak Peek session.

It can take months for a third party to stand up a new resource on Azure due to factors such as tying together storage, monitoring, telemetry and billing. Microsoft wants to speed up that process for partners through something it calls Resource Provider as a service, or RPaaS, now in development.

The goal is for partners to focus on the business logic associated with their service, and not so much on the wiring and plumbing work required to get Azure resources live.

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