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Live Mesh or Windows Azure?

Windows Azure is comprised of three main pieces: Web Roles, Worker Roles, and Data Storage

One of the biggest problems about this year's PDC is the sheer volume of new stuff that has been unleashed upon us. Some clickbaiters like Joe Wilcox are in "Bash Microsoft" mode and are calling the Azure platform "vaporware" (yes, despite the fact that we've been able to actually build AND DEPLOY Azure apps since Tuesday), but a lot of people have genuine concerns like "What's the difference between all these new cloud stacks?!?"

That's a perfectly valid question and so the first comparison I'm going to address here is Live Mesh and Windows Azure.

Technical Differences between Live Mesh and Windows Azure

As you can see from the above diagram, Windows Azure resides at the lowest level of the Azure Services Platform. Windows Azure has the moniker 'Windows' because Microsoft is branding it the "OS in the Cloud" and a lot of that makes sense. Windows Azure provides cloud-based compute and cloud-based storage and it does so in a massively scalable fashion.

Windows Azure is comprised of three main pieces: Web Roles, Worker Roles, and Data Storage. The Web Role can be thought of as a traditional ASP.NET application (up to and including Silverlight hosted by ASP.NET pages) but can eventually be any kind of web application you like, including Ruby on Rails or Python/Django or whatever. The Worker Role is a piece of .NET code that is literally running in the cloud. You can use this Worker Role to perform processing operations in the background. Typically this code is used to take work requests from a queue and process them. The third piece of Windows Azure is data storage in the cloud, allowing you to store and retrieve Tables, Queues, and Blobs.

Also visible in the diagram above is the relative position of Live Services. The Live Framework is the means by which Live Services are programmed and consumed. Live Services are also built in the cloud and also built on top of Windows Azure. I don't know if that means that Live Mesh was written using Azure services, but you get the idea.

Live Mesh (part of Live Services and accessed via the Live Framework) is a means by which you can unify your devices, applications, and devices through synchronization. 

Practical Differences between Live Mesh and Windows Azure

I can summarize the difference between Live Mesh and Azure in one word: scope. To expand on that: Windows Azure is all about delivering cloud services and providing storage for those services. These services default to having a global scope and they are what I would call "self-centered". Not in the egotistical sense of the word, but in the dictionary sense - the world of a Windows Azure service revolves around itself. People go to the service to get what they need. These services could be publicly hosted web sites, forums, blogs, social networks, twitter clones, or even games. 

When thinking about Live Mesh, the focus and scope is all about YOU. It's about your data, your contacts, your applications, your devices, your digital life. Live Mesh is about making the synchronization and integration of your apps, your data, and your devices easy, painless, and highly productive.

So when you're trying to decide what kind of application you're going to build or which SDK you should be learning, ask yourself a this question: Is the application you intend to build one that revolves around a single person and potentially her social graph, or is your application a destination to which people from all over would travel to get what they want, find what they need, or be entertained?

Obviously this doesn't cover every single possible application scenario, but it should give you a good general idea of where both Live Mesh and Windows Azure are coming from and why they are so very different, yet both share a common foundation and both are services in the cloud.

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More Stories By Kevin Hoffman

Kevin Hoffman, editor-in-chief of SYS-CON's iPhone Developer's Journal, has been programming since he was 10 and has written everything from DOS shareware to n-tier, enterprise web applications in VB, C++, Delphi, and C. Hoffman is coauthor of Professional .NET Framework (Wrox Press) and co-author with Robert Foster of Microsoft SharePoint 2007 Development Unleashed. He authors The .NET Addict's Blog at .NET Developer's Journal.

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