Windows Azure Drive Hits Beta

Service is part of Microsoft's new cloud computing environment, which went live Monday.
Microsoft has released a trial version of its Windows Azure Drive, a service that allows businesses to run their existing Windows applications in Microsoft's cloud environment through standard Windows NTFS APIs.

Azure Drive stores data in what Microsoft calls "page blobs." For the beta program, the company said it will bill customers "only for the storage space used by the Page Blob and the read/write transactions to the Page Blob," according to a post Tuesday on Microsoft's Windows Azure blog.

"This will be incorporated into the standard Windows Azure usage rates and there will not be a separate line item on the bill," Microsoft said.

Azure, which went live Monday, marks Microsoft's first plunge into cloud computing, a new-wave IT architecture in which businesses tap applications and data over the Web, rather than servers stored and maintained locally in a data center.

Microsoft is using a pay-as-you-go "consumption" option based on resource usage, and a "commitment" option that provides discounts for a six-month obligation.

In the standard plan, a virtualized Windows Server ranges from 12 cents to 96 cents per hour, depending on CPU usage. Storage starts at 15 cents per GB per month, plus one cent for every 10,000 transactions. Microsoft's SQL Server costs $9.99 per month for a 1 GB Web database.

Microsoft is pitching Azure as a way for companies to simplify their IT requirements and reduce data center costs. It's betting big on the plan.

The company last month announced an ambitious partnership with Hewlett-Packard under which the tech heavyweights will jointly invest $250 million over three years to develop and market systems geared toward cloud computing.

Under the tie up, Microsoft and HP will work together to build and integrate technologies, including virtualization, systems management and storage, that support the cloud.

For instance, HP will reengineer some of its hardware to improve its ability to run Microsoft's SQL Server database and Hyper-V virtualization server software. It will also enhance management software such as HP Insight and Business Technology Optimization for tighter integration with Windows datacenter environments.

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