Book Review – Azure in Action

I have recently finished reading Azure in Action by Chris Hay and Brian Prince.  The book will not be published in print form until August 2010, so my copy was a PDF made available through Manning Publications’ Manning Early Access Program (MEAP).

In Azure in Action, Chris Hay and Brian Prince share with readers their vast breadth and depth of knowledge, along with their passion, of the Windows Azure platform.  While not a “deep dive” on any one aspect of Windows Azure, Azure in Action does go into enough detail that when you finish the book you feel you can speak intelligently about and build applications with the Windows Azure platform.  From the beginning the author’s stimulating, often humorous, approach to explaining the concepts had me hooked.  The book starts with a general overview of cloud computing and Windows Azure, and then eases into the details.  You will gain a solid understanding of what cloud computing is and how it has the potential to have a significant impact on the IT landscape in the coming years.  In doing so, the authors explain how Windows Azure and its Platform-as-a-Service (PaaS) approach fit into this picture.

As you move through the chapters, the authors continue to build upon the foundation they have laid earlier in the book.  The three major components of Windows Azure – web roles, worker roles, and storage services – are all covered in great detail.  The authors also provide some basic knowledge about SQL Azure and Windows Azure Platform AppFrabic.  In explaining each of the aspects of Windows Azure, the authors also point out areas to pay special attention to, including several tips and tricks for architecting your application to run in the cloud.

Windows Azure is a relatively young platform.  It was first unveiled in CTP form at PDC in 2008, and about a year later at PDC 2009 it made its production release.  As a service, it is also a platform that is able to add new features relatively quickly.  Chris Hay and Brian Prince do a great job of pointing out these features and those that while not in the platform today, they feel will have a high probability to be included in the platform in the future.  Every technology has its faults and the authors do point out minor gripes with the platform, for example, the REST API for creating a new table in the Windows Azure Table Service is overly complex and verbose.

There are aspects of the Windows Azure platform that can be a little difficult to grasp at first.  One such area is Windows Azure’s Blob Storage Service.  The authors spend several insightful chapters explaining how the Blob Storage Service works (which I found to be very interesting), tips and tricks for working with Blobs, and several creative ideas for leveraging Blobs.  After finishing reading these chapters, you should have a solid grasp on Blob storage and how to leverage it in your applications.

In Azure in Action, Chris Hay and Brian Prince take a very feature rich and powerful platform in Windows Azure, and break it down into chunks that are fun and easy to digest.  I have read my fair share of technical books, and many can be quite dull to read.  The authors’ passion and sense of humor make their book a pleasure to read and ensure you won’t be wondering how many pages are left to the end of the chapter.  If you are looking for a fun, insightful book to learn about Windows Azure, then I recommend highly you start with Azure in Action.