Friday, December 12, 2008
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My previous blog post (Some thoughts on Windows Azure) has generated some good comments. I was going to answer with a comment, but I wrote enough that I thought I’d just do a follow-up post.

Jamie says “Sounds akin to Architecture:"convention over configuration" I'm wholly in favour of that.”

Yes, this is very much a convention over configuration story, just at an arguably larger scope that we’ve seen thus far. Or at least showing a glimpse of that larger scope. Things like Rails are interesting, but I don't think they are as broad as the potential we're seeing here.

It is my view that the primary job of an architect is to eliminate choices. To create artificial restrictions within which applications are created. Basically to pre-make most of the hard choices so each application designer/developer doesn’t need to.

What I’m saying with Azure, is that we’re seeing this effect at a platform level. A platform that has already eliminated most choices, and that has created restrictions on how applications are created – thus ensuring a high level of consistency, and potential portability.

Jason is confused by my previous post, in that I say Azure has a "lock-in problem", but that the restricted architecture is a good thing.

I understand your confusion, as I probably could have been more clear. I do think Windows Azure has a lock-in problem - it doesn't scale down into my data center, or onto my desktop. But the concept of a restricted runtime is a good one, and I suspect that concept may outlive this first run at Azure. A restricted architecture (and runtime to support it) doesn't have to cause lock-in at the hosting level. Perhaps at the vendor level - but those of us who live in the Microsoft space put that concern behind us many years ago.

Roger suggests that most organizations may not have the technical savvy to host the Azure platform in-house.

That may be a valid point – the current Azure implementation might be too complex for most organizations to administer. Microsoft didn't build it as a server product, so they undoubtedly made implementation choices that create complexity for hosting. This doesn’t mean the idea of a restricted runtime is bad. Nor does it mean that someone (possibly Microsoft) could create such a restricted runtime that could be deployed within an organization, or in the cloud. Consider that there is a version of Azure that runs on a developer's workstation already - so it isn't hard to imagine a version of Azure that I could run in my data center.

Remember that we’re talking about a restricted runtime, with a restricted architecture and API. Basically a controlled subset of .NET. We’re already seeing this work – in the form of Silverlight. Silverlight is largely compatible with .NET, even though they are totally separate implementations. And Moonlight demonstrates that the abstraction can carry to yet another implementation.

Silverlight has demonstrated that most business applications only use 5 of the 197 megabytes in the .NET 3.5 framework download to build the client. Just how much is really required to build the server parts? A different 5 megabytes? 10? Maybe 20 tops?

If someone had a defined runtime for server code, like Silverlight is for the client, I think it becomes equally possible to have numerous physical implementations of the same runtime. One for my laptop, one for my enterprise servers and one for Microsoft to host in the cloud. Now I can write my app in this .NET subset, and I can not only scale out, but I can scale up or down too.

That’s where I suspect this will all end up, and spurring this type of thinking is (to me) the real value of Azure in the short term.

Finally, Justin rightly suggests that we can use our own abstraction layer to be portable to/from Azure even today.

That's absolutely true. What I'm saying is that I think Azure could light the way to a platform that already does that abstraction.

Many, many years ago I worked on a project to port some software from a Prime to a VAX. It was only possible because the original developers had (and I am not exaggerating) abstracted every point of interaction with the OS. Everything that wasn't part of the FORTRAN-77 spec was in an abstraction layer. I shudder to think of the expense of doing that today - of abstracting everything outside the C# language spec - basically all of .NET - so you could be portable.

So what we need, I think, is this server equivalent to Silverlight. Azure is not that - not today - but I think it may start us down that path, and that'd be cool!