Microsoft To Launch Pennies-Per-Hour Azure Cloud Service Monday

Following a month of no-cost tire kicking, Microsoft will begin charging customers on Feb. 1 for its new Windows Server-based cloud computing service.
O'Brien describes Azure as a "platform as a service," where developers will find both tools for building applications and virtualized servers, storage, and networking for hosting them. Microsoft isn't positioning Azure as a direct competitor to Amazon's popular Elastic Compute Cloud and related infrastructure services, but the two companies' usage-based price models are similar. Like Microsoft, Amazon charges 12 cents per hour for a Windows Server instance. (For more, see "Amazon Offers MySQL Cloud Service, Cuts Server Fees.")

O'Brien says infrastructure as a service is already becoming a commodity offering, and he expects Amazon, VMware, and other cloud services vendors to increasingly move into platforms as a service.

In November, Microsoft introduced an Azure-based service code-named Dallas where customers can access data sets and other content offered by NASA, the World Health Organization, and other partners.

Microsoft wants to makes it easier for customers to deploy and manage applications that span both corporate data centers and Azure in so-called hybrid clouds. A major area of emphasis going forward will be on "server-service cohesion," says O'Brien.

Along those lines, Microsoft plans to introduce a set of technologies called AppFabric, in beta testing now, that will let developers deploy and manage applications that span both on-premises Windows servers and its Azure cloud. Microsoft will also support Windows Server virtual machines in Azure, making it easier for IT departments to move virtualized workloads into Azure. And a VPN capability, code-named Sydney, will support "cloud bursting" between corporate data centers and Azure when on-demand servers are needed for temporary projects, traffic spikes or failover.

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