Now that Halo 4 will run on Windows Azure, what’s next?


Microsoft knows how to make big, sweeping pronouncements. And there were a lot of those flowing out of the company’s Build Conference in Redmond, Wash. this week.

Satya Nadella - President, Server and Tools Business, Microsoft - Structure 2011In a blog posted Wednesday, the day of his Build keynote. Satya Nadella, president of  Microsoft’s Server and Tools business, talked up Windows Azure as the platform of choice for building and running modern applications. For developers, he said Microsoft’s Cloud OS — a combo of Azure and Windows Server 2012 — gives developers the most complete platform to build on “regardless of their preferred language, tool or framework.”

That’s a big claim and one that some non- .NET developers aren’t buying. Sure, they acknowledge that Microsoft has added support for non-Microsoft languages — PHP, Node.js etc — but they don’t trust that Microsoft is supporting them as robustly as it supports its own languages and frameworks. That’s a hurdle for Microsoft if it wants to attract these developers in addition  to enterprise developers. Business users are heavily invested in Java or .NET code.  according to Sinclair Schuler, CEO of Apprenda, a company that offers a business-focused .NET platform as a service.

Reaching out to web developers

In his blog, Nadella touted the company’s “internet scale” workloads including Skydrive, Office 365, Xbox Live and Bing. How many of those are running on Azure now? No one was saying, because the answer is close to zero. But, that’s about to change. Next week Halo 4 will launch and then, according to Nadella’s post: “2 million concurrent players will experience the power of Windows Azure, which is used to power the entire multi-player experience.”

Nadella continued:

” … the Halo 4 team was able to cut costs by more than 60 percent from the previous release. The team reduced the development time with high levels of infrastructure automation, and that in turn allowed them to re-platform the entire code base in less than a year. Finally, with the flexible and on-demand architecture of Windows Azure, each Halo 4 developer had their own development environment, which allowed development and testing to run in parallel.”

A Microsoft spokeswoman said Azure will “power the entire back-end and supporting services for Halo 4, which include presence, leaderboards, Avatar rendering, match making and more.” And, that the Bing Search API and Microsoft Translator will be available on the new Windows Azure Store.

Update: Commenter Tim Acheson points out that Bing Maps also runs on Azure.

Eating the dog food

Microsoft always brags about eating its own dog food (the world’s worst metaphor). So when it tells outside developers to build and deploy software on Azure when it isn’t doing so itself, it’s just awkward.

Halo ain’t Office or SharePoint, but it’s a start. When it comes to its productivity applications, Microsoft has nibbled around the edges by enabling developers to write add-ons for Office and Sharepoint that run on Azure. But as to when Azure will be the deployment platform for Office 365 or other of the company’s software-as-a-service products, your guess is as good as mine. Windows Azure launched after all, in February, 2010. Tick, tock.

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