And it's committed to match Amazon Web Services in current pricing and future price reductions, said Bill Hilf, general manager for Windows Azure product marketing in an interview that preceded the announcement. Until now, Azure has been primarily a developer's cloud, a form of platform-as-a-service, where software could be developed with shared tools made available on a specific, .Net-supporting platform.
"We've been focused on platform-as-a-service. That's how we originated," said Hilf, harking back to Azure's launch in February 2010 as a commercially available PaaS. But now Azure's value to the enterprise will change as it offers IaaS, infrastructure that is compatible with many Microsoft technologies already in the data center. They would include Windows Server 2012, System Center 2012 Service Pack 1 and the .Net languages used with Visual Studio.
Its emergence as a general-purpose, workload-hosting infrastructure marks a new era for Azure, one in which its role expands as supplemental compute power for enterprise data centers or primary compute power for small businesses familiar with the Windows environment. Hilf said Azure is currently growing at the rate of 1,000 customers a day and supports 200,000 active customers.
[ Want more on Microsoft's System Center? See Microsoft System Center 2012 Focuses On The Private Cloud. ]
Hilf emphasized the ability of Azure to work with existing data centers as much as he did its unique hosted-service features. "Customers don't want to rip and replace their current infrastructure to benefit from the cloud. They want the strengths of their on-premises investments and the flexibility of the cloud," he wrote in a blog posted on Microsoft's website early Tuesday. It's not either/or on-premises versus public cloud. "It's about infrastructure services and platform services and hybrid scenarios," he wrote. SQL Azure, for example, is a cloud-based database service that can be synchronized with SQL Server in the enterprise.
To kick off the general availability, Microsoft reduced prices on its cloud services by 21% to 33% and pledged "to match Amazon Web Services prices for commodity services, such as compute, storage and bandwidth." The price reductions apply to all Azure services, not just the new IaaS.
Microsoft added two large memory server types for IaaS workloads, a 28-GB and four-core VM and a 56-GB and eight-core VM. Azure runs the Windows Server 2012 hypervisor, Hyper-V, but has free tools that allow a Hyper-V host to accept and run VMware ESX Server virtual machines. The VMware-originated workload is migrated into a format acceptable to Hyper-V. Likewise, Hyper-V hosts can run virtual machines using Linux as their operating system.
It should be noted that its support includes Suse and Ubuntu but doesn't appear to include Red Hat Enterprise Linux, the flavor most frequently preferred for enterprise workloads, according to the information provided by this Azure resource explainer.
Hilf cited Digital Air Strike as an early user of Azure IaaS. The startup supplies a feedback mechanism to new General Motors car buyers. Microsoft quoted Digital Air Strike's chief marketing officer, who's not named in the announcement, as saying his firm looked at Amazon Web Services and other providers but settled on Azure, due to its enterprise-supporting properties.