Microsoft Guns for Cloud Devs at Build 2016

At last week’s Microsoft Build 2016 conference, Executive Vice President for Cloud + Enterprise Scott Guthrie announced innovations in mobile app development, the Internet of Things, microservices and intelligence designed to help developers create apps for the company’s Azure cloud environment.

One is Azure App Service, which offers back-end capabilities for Web, native Windows, iOS and Android platforms.

Guthrie also announced five Azure IoT starter kits, starting at US$50.

In the area of microservices, he announced the general availability of Azure Service Fabric and previews for Service Fabric for Windows Server and Linux. Azure Service Fabric is a microservices application platform. Service Fabric for Windows Server is for deployments on-premises and in other clouds; Service Fabric for Linux will come with Java APIs.

Guthrie also presented a preview of Azure Functions.

“Microsoft wants its tools for developers to be what Office is for knowledge workers,” remarked Al Hilwa, a research program director at IDC Seattle. “They want to be the No. 1 toolchain for cross-platform development, mobile, cloud … everything.”

That’s “a tall order, but they’re executing on it and building a multiplatform ecosystem,” he told the E-Commerce Times.

An Expanded View

Xamarin, which lets developers build mobile apps that run across all mobile platforms more easily and quickly, is now free, Guthrie said.

“For mobile developers, this is the most important announcement to come out of Microsoft Build,” Hilwa remarked. By making Xamarin free and putting the runtime in open source, Microsoft is doing for cross-platform mobile development what Visual Basic did for Windows app development — disrupting it by offering a low-cost alternative to expensive dev environments and compilers.

The IoT starter kits all include Azure Certified for IoT development boards, actuators, sensors and tutorials that let Windows and Linux devs build IoT prototypes quickly and easily, according to Guthrie.

After attending a Starter Kit tutorial and “learning to program one myself, I think that kids should get these to learn from instead of iPads,” said Rob Enderle, principal analyst at the Enderle Group.

“You’d end up with some rather valuable basic programming skills that would be very useful as IoT starts to mainstream,” he told the E-Commerce Times.

In Q2, Microsoft will release Azure IoT Hub device management — which will let medium and large businesses remotely maintain, interact with and manage IoT devices at scale from the cloud — and Azure IoT Gateway SDK preview — which will let legacy devices and sensors connect to the Azure cloud using existing infrastructure.

These two are “clearly focused on jump-starting development, and that’s what the market really needs now — more people developing cool connected stuff,” Enderle observed.

Azure Apps

“Infrastructure services are what’s pulling customers in today, but Microsoft still hopes it can leapfrog the competition by getting significant applications built for the cloud on Azure,” remarked Rob Helm, managing VP of research atDirections on Microsoft.

Service Fabric “will be an important supporting piece in how developers build applications on Azure” because it provides basic pieces needed to build and manage scalable, maintainable cloud apps, he told the E-Commerce Times.

“However, like App Service, it’s for new applications built for the cloud, which means it will take some time and application developer investment before we see how well it works in practice.”

Azure Functions is important because it lets developers deploy algorithms for processing intermittently arriving data without having to provision servers or machine images, Hilwa said. It “provides a form of abstracted PaaS but deals with short bursts of processing instead of long-running computing sessions.”

On the Money

Microsoft’s IoT services and the Azure App Service “will be absolutely essential because companies have to learn what is IoT, what they need to implement it, how much it’s going to cost, what their staff need to learn,” commented Laura DiDio, a research director at Strategy Analytics.

Microsoft’s approach harks back to the days when IBM and Hewlett-Packard salespeople would work closely with clients, giving them a multiyear road map and advice on what to do and buy and what they need, she told the E-Commerce Times.

“It’s a very necessary service and it’s smart of Microsoft to do this,” DiDio said, “because the real money in IoT is in services.”

Richard Adhikari has written about high-tech for leading industry publications since the 1990s and wonders where it's all leading to. Will implanted RFID chips in humans be the Mark of the Beast? Will nanotech solve our coming food crisis? Does Sturgeon's Law still hold true? You can connect with Richard on Google+.

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