My day with Windows Azure

Some of you might know that I used to work on Windows Azure. We are evaluating technology options for my startup, so I decided to host our public-facing website on Windows Azure. It was a little surreal to use your own product as an outsider. Here are some key takeaways from an ex-'Softie:

  • There's sort of a magic to the vertically integrated stack: Everything from Microsoft works together, if not in practice then in theory. I used WebMatrix to create a Wordpress site on my computer. MySQL and PHP installed in minutes, and the site just started working. Holy cow. I mean I used to work on WebMatrix, but there's just no faster way to get Wordpress installed than this. I was able to publish to Windows Azure with just a few more clicks. It's just that simple. Just for kicks, I created a Wordpress site on Bluehost.com. The experience was slow and buggy. When a vertically-integrated stack from companies like Microsoft works, it works really, really well.

  • ... except when it doesn't work: That's right. There were a few times when I was bashing my head in because the 'magic' just wasn't working. I'll give you an example: WebMatrix lets you publish your Wordpress site (yes, including the database!) with a click. I published my site, and noticed that the logo was not showing up on the remote site. What the hell? The Chrome console solved the puzzle - the site was trying to serve up something from localhost. To publish a database, WebMatrix dumps it out using mysqldump.exe and replaces localhost:port with the remote site name. This was clearly not working in some instances. It was easy enough to fix manually, but it just showed a seam I wish I had not seen. Another example was when I tried to activate my BizSpark for Windows Azure offer, which is quite generous. The website I landed on was archaic, and full of instructions and warnings I couldn't quite understand. Signup failed repeatedly, and I couldn't open a support ticket until the third try. It was painful. You know what's even more painful? Knowing that I designed a big part of this experience. When the seams show, it just sucks to be the user of a vertically-integrated stack.

  • Windows Azure is trying really hard: There is a silver lining to all this. I whined on Twitter about my BizSpark signup problem (Azure support had been pretty useless), and dcurt (a BizSpark team member at Microsoft) jumped on it. I got immediate help from my former teammates, and I was off to the races. It was just great to know that Microsoft was listening on Twitter.

So is Windows Azure battle-tested and ready? I don't think I can answer that question for you, but it is a platform to watch over the next few years. Especially if @scottgu can pack in as much goodies over the next year as he has in the last one :)