Codename “Dallas” – What is it and why should you care?

dallas At PDC09, Microsoft introduced “Dallas,” and today Microsoft made some announcements as to the progress of Dallas. Dallas is a service for developers and information workers who are looking for access to premium datasets to use in a variety of ways.

Today at MIX10, Microsoft announced that Dallas has reached the CTP2 stage. As a part of their announcement, Microsoft has introduced new partnerships with Navteq (mapping data), Pitney Bowes, Weather Central, and Zillow.com. Dallas as other partners as well such as the US Government, the United Nations, Associated Press, and others. I had the opportunity today to sit down with Moe Khosravy, Group Manager for Dallas, and he told me that by the time Dallas officially launches, there will be 1400 available datasets from the United Nations alone.

Developers, why should you care about Dallas? Dallas offers you the opportunity to access premium data in its raw form, and use that data to create new, interactive, and exciting experiences around the data. Say for example you are building a news app for Windows Phone and you want to use AP stories as your source material. You can through Dallas access AP content, and use that content in your application. Or say that you are developing a website for a nonprofit organization that is focusing on combating crime, and you want to be able to provide the organization with intelligence about crime data and connect it with a map or some other visualization, Dallas will let you do this. You can access the data via OData or Atom, and can create applications for phones, web, and the desktop.

Information Workers, why should you care about Dallas? Dallas provides you with instant access to data that can be used in a variety of ways. Microsoft has said that they will be providing a connector for Office products that will allow you to through an application like Excel, manage this data from initial subscription, to acquisition of data, to helping to create your final product. The example that Khosravy used during our meeting today was that say you were working on a briefing document about crime and you wanted to provide information about crime in your area. All you need to do is through Excel click a button and select the set of crime related data available in Dallas that want to use, and it will down the raw data for you, and you can then manipulate the data to suit your needs.

Throughout my talk with Khosravy and in reading the information on the Dallas website, there is one keyword that stands out and that is the word “marketplace.” I asked about how the marketplace will work, and what content providers can expect from Microsoft in terms of revenue sharing. The question wasn’t answered directly however what was said is that content providers will set their price and then Microsoft will markup the price from there. At least right now from what I’ve been told, Microsoft isn’t using Dallas to generate tons of revenue for themselves. Depending on the popularity of Dallas this could change in the future. At launch, Microsoft will provide three different methods for purchasing data. There will be free trial access, per transaction pricing, and subscription pricing. Free trial access with allow you to preview the data, and perform some basic manipulation of the data, all through the browser, to see if the data is right for you. Per-transaction pricing is simply that. You pay per transaction. This is good for cases where you are developing an application but you’re not sure of the popularity, so instead of paying big subscription fees, you pay per transaction and determine which pricing model works better for you. The subscription based model is setup such that you pay one fee and you get unlimited calls to that data. With subscription pricing, you can also cache the data on your own server to reduce the number of calls made to Dallas for the data.

From what I was told today, the marketplace should go live in the second half of this year. CTP2 is live now, and you can visit http://www.microsoft.com/dallas and access data from the AP, the United Nations, Data.gov, and more.

Introduction to Windows Azure

WinAzure_web At PDC 2008, Microsoft unveiled Windows Azure to the world. Windows Azure is Microsoft’s cloud computing offering and last week on February 1st, went live to the broad public.

Cloud computing means that data and computing resources are performed in the “cloud.” (A picture of a cloud is often used as a metaphor to describe the internet.) Instead of managing infrastructure needs and dealing with complex costs associated with the infrastructure, cloud computing enables you to perform complex computing workloads on an infrastructure managed by someone else and for more affordable and manageable costs.

To put some context and clarity around the above definition, here’s a real world example. You operate a large pizza chain and you offer the ability for customers to place their orders online. Currently, you host the online ordering application in house, and are paying cooling, server, human capital, and other costs to keep this application available to your customers. Now it’s Super Bowl Sunday and you experience a huge spike in people trying to order pizzas, and your website crashes. Oh no! You’ve lost sales, you’ve lost customers, and you have a public relations nightmare.

How does Windows Azure help you out of this?

Windows Azure allows you to host your applications in an environment designed for high workloads and scalability.

With Windows Azure, you can host your pizza order application and as demand increases, you can with a few clicks of the mouse turn on more servers to meet the demand of your application. So instead of losing money, customers, and having a public relations nightmare, you make money, keep and earn customers, and have a positive public relations story.

For more information about Windows Azure, visit http://www.azure.com

As soon as I have a bit more time to get the technical details under my belt, I’ll post the technical details of how Windows Azure works. 🙂