Microsoft has used its Professional Developers Conference in Seattle to show off the upgrades to the Azure cloud platform that will roll out over the next 18 months.
The focus of Microsoft's push will be a concept referred to as 'infrastructure-as-a-service', where cloud services are combined with communication, virtualisation and developer tools to expand the scope of the Azure platform.
"It's very clear that that's where the future of apps will go," said Microsoft Server and Tools president Bob Muglia. "Microsoft is putting the majority of its focus on this and with Azure."
The company will launch a beta of Azure Virtual Machine Role this year, which will allow IT administrators to run Windows Server 2008 R2 in the cloud.
Applications can be automatically converted for Azure use and deployed to end users as images using Azure Server Application Virtualization software that will come online in mid-2011.
Developers and IT managers will also get a host of new tools in 2011 for Azure SQL, including a database manager, data synchronisation and improved reporting features. Full IIS support, remote management tools and multiple admin modes will also be added.
"These really are sophisticated abilities, and developers are waiting for them," Jeffrey Hammond, principal analyst at Forrester Research, told V3.co.uk.
"Having the platform as a service makes it much easier for developers and companies to set up operations."
Microsoft will also offer an Extra Small Windows Azure Instance allowing developers to buy an hour's server time for just $0.05.
A DataMarket within Windows Azure Marketplace will sell developers' code for the platform. So far the market has 35 content providers online, with 60 data offerings and another 100 coming soon.
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