Microsoft Windows Azure Makes Some Big Jumps Forward With FedRAMP and Barracuda

Microsoft’s Windows Azure product line first appeared in 2008. When I first learned about it, I concluded that it was a nice complement to Amazon Web Services and an alternative or competitor to Google’s cloud services.

Windows Azure let you develop and run your applications in a PaaS space, analogous to Google App Engine but with a different set of supported languages. And then there was Office 365 versus Google Docs, Software as a Service or SaaS cloud document suites. Microsoft’s advantage here seemed to be the SQL Azure side, the ready to run PaaS database in the cloud.

Well, things have changed!

Windows Azure still includes the PaaS components, but like so many PaaS offerings they have not been as successful as hoped. I’m as guilty as the next person of over-estimating the popularity of a platform to develop and deploy your own programming. It sounds interesting, it sounds like a fun challenge … oops, it sounds a lot of work. The number of people qualified and ready to develop and deploy (and document, and support…) programs is always much smaller than the number of people just wanting to run those programs.

I really like the idea of PaaS as a program development and deployment environment, but it’s the weakling of the cloud litter.

Microsoft has greatly extended Windows Azure. In June of 2012 they announced a preview of virtual machines, and in May of 2013 their IaaS or Infrastructure as a Service became generally available. You choices are Windows Server 2008, Server 2012, and Linux. Around that same time Google announced general availability of their IaaS, which is entirely Linux. With that, the big three public cloud providers of Amazon, Microsoft, and Google all had IaaS offerings.

The news keeps coming for Microsoft’s Windows Azure.

The U.S. Federal Government is in the sixth year of an initiative GSA describes as “The Cloud First policy mandates that agencies take full advantage of cloud computing benefits to maximize capacity utilization, improve IT flexibility and responsiveness, and minimize cost.”

Here comes a lot of government terminology and acronyms, but a cloud provider’s goal is Federal Risk and Authorization Management Program (or FedRAMP) Joint Authorization Board (JAB) Provisional Authority to Operate (P-ATO). There were cloud providers with FedRAMP JAB P-ATO, but they have tended to be major telcos (AT&T, Verizon) and specialized federal contractors (Lockheed Martin, CGI Federal). Amazon’s AWS has had it for a little while, and now Windows Azure just got it.

In another sign that Windows Azure is in the major league of easy to use IaaS providers, Barracuda has just announced that a number of its products are now available as ready-to-run images on Azure: the Barracuda Web Application Firewall, the Barracuda NG Firewall, and the Barracuda Load Balancer ADC (or Application Delivery Controller) can be plugged into your virtual datacenter in the Windows Azure cloud.

In Learning Tree’s Cloud Security Essentials course we have been talking about building virtual private clouds using security images from the AWS Marketplace — we need to also include Azure!

Bob Cromwell

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