Microsoft Pushes the Cloud as Windows 7, Server 2008 Betas Near

In addition to building anticipation for the long-awaited SP1 for the latest Windows operating system, Microsoft pitches developers on moving to Azure.

Microsoft today said it plan to release the beta versions for its first Service Pack updates to Windows 7 and Windows Server 2008 Release 2 (R2) in late July, giving corporate IT an opportunity for an early look at the releases.

The debut of Service Pack 1 (SP1) for any Microsoft OS is a key event for IT decision makers, who typically wait until the first major update before they begin planning and testing deployments. Although high interest in Windows 7 has led many in corporate IT to start earlier than usual, however, the most conservative IT buyers have still been waiting for the SP1 before beginning their evaluations and pilots.

But fanning the flames of excitement around the pending arrival of SP1 for Windows 7 and Windows Server 2008 wasn't Microsoft's only goal today. At the same time, it continued to drive home another message: Enterprise IT decision makers should also be getting ready to move to the cloud.

Bob Muglia, president of Microsoft's (NASDAQ: MSFT) Server and Tools Business, made the announcements about Windows 7 SP1 and Windows Server 2008 R2 SP1 at the company's TechEd developers conference today in New Orleans, amid a wider showcase of upcoming updates to Microsoft enterprise software.

However, Muglia spent much of his time onstage preparing developers and IT leaders for the new capabilities coming in the company's Windows Azure cloud-computing platform.

"The cloud will change many things in IT. Some of the things you're doing today will become cloud services," Muglia told the audience. "We're focused on taking you forward as you begin to move to the cloud."

Windows Server SP1 updates

With getting customers onto a Microsoft-backed cloud being a key initiative for the company, it's no surprise that Windows Server 2008 R2 will help drive that effort. As a result, besides the expected bug and security fixes, the upcoming service pack for Windows Server R2 SP1 includes two new virtualization-centric additions -- Remote FX and Dynamic Memory.

"The new virtualization tools in SP1 will help Windows Server 2008 R2 users prepare for cloud computing," a Microsoft spokesperson said in an e-mail to "Remote FX provides a rich 3-D graphical experience for remote users, and Dynamic Memory enables more control to adjust memory usage without sacrificing performance."

Not all of the Windows Server updates are several weeks away, however. Microsoft today also announced it has released Windows Server AppFabric to manufacturing. AppFabric is an extension to Windows Server that provides "enhanced hosting, management, and caching capabilities for Web applications and middle-tier services."

Windows Azure updates

Microsoft is busily ramping up new features and enhancements for its Azure services development platform, today releasing new details about what's to come. Among the enhancements ahead is an updated version of the Windows Azure Software Development Kit, which adds support for .NET Framework 4, the company said in online statements. It also supports Visual Studio 2010's IntelliTrace feature, which is meant to streamline cloud services debugging.

The company today also revealed further details surrounding SQL Azure, the Azure cloud's database capability. SQL Azure will provide access to spatial data as well a public preview of the SQL Azure Data Sync Service and of Microsoft SQL Server Web Manager, according to the company. The sync service enables developers to have "more flexible control over where and how data is distributed across multiple datacenters," Microsoft said in a statement.

Additionally, Microsoft released commercial pricing for the Windows Azure Content Network, beginning at $55.95 for a basic Development Accelerator Core subscription, which includes 750 hours of a "small" compute instance. A Development Accelerator Extended subscription starts at $109.95 and includes the core offering along with a six-month discounted rate for SQL Azure.

Exchange Server, Communications Server updates

Microsoft today also shared new developments in two key enterprise software products: The beta of Exchange Server 2010 SP1 is available for download, while the company also demonstrated several previously undisclosed features of the next edition of Office Communications Server, unofficially dubbed "Communications Server 14." The product will be available later in the year, Microsoft has said.

During TechEd today, Muglia and a small army of the company's "demo-gods" also showed off previously undisclosed features of Communications Server "14" -- the firm's unified communications product.

New features coming in Communications Server 14 -- most likely to be officially dubbed Communications Server 2010 as the other 2010 products such as SharePoint 2010 have been when it's released later this year -- include sharing of Office documents and applications, as well as single-click meeting access from Outlook, SharePoint and mobile phones, according to Microsoft.

Stuart J. Johnston is a contributing writer at, the news service of, the network for technology professionals.

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