Microsoft Azure Is Free Until November

Microsoft announces at its Worldwide Partner Conference that Azure, its public cloud platform, will be free until the Professional Developers Conference in November. Intended to go head-to-head against similar cloud platform offerings from and Google, Azure is just one of the flagship programs that Microsoft has been demonstrating at the conference, along with Windows 7 and Microsoft Office 2010.

Microsoft will make Azure, its public cloud platform, available for free until its Professional Developers Conference in November. Azure will be available beginning July 14.

Citing a Gartner study that showed cloud services as a potential "$150 billion business opportunity for the marketplace," Doug Hauger, general manager of Microsoft Azure, said after taking the stage at Microsoft's Worldwide Partner Conference July 14 that Azure "will go commercial in November."

Microsoft is proposing three ways for customers to consume the platform. The first will be "consumption," a pay-as-you-go model. The second will be a subscription-based format. The third will operate on volume licensing.

Once commercial availability and the price structure go into effect, the "consumption" model will cost 12 cents per hour for infrastructure usage, and another 15 cents per gigabyte for storage. The business edition of the SQL Azure database, at 10GB, will cost $99.99. For all three types of Azure services, users will need to pay 10 cents per gigabyte for incoming data, and 15 cents for outgoing data.

Azure will eventually go head-to-head against similar offerings from and Google. Originally announced on Oct. 27, 2008 at the Professional Developers Conference in Los Angeles, Azure relies on a network of distributed data centers to deliver SAAS (software as a service) to users.

"Now is the time to build Windows Azure applications," Hauger said. The reason why the Azure platform is cost-free for five months, he indicated, is to "build the market momentum" as developers figure out how to best integrate the platform with their existing businesses. In order to achieve further penetration, Microsoft plans to offer discounts for partners, allowing partners to charge their customers for applications and services built on the platform.

Hauger suggested that moving onto the Azure platform will make developers and IT administrators more agile, with "quick time to market and making sure you deliver solutions very, very quickly."

Despite increased emphasis in the enterprise on cloud-based platforms such as Azure and Google Apps, the companies behind them are still wrestling with how to offer continuous uptime. Between March 13 and 14, the early test release version of Azure experienced an outage that left users without service for 22 hours. In February, a Google outage downed Gmail and Google Apps for roughly 2.5 hours.

Azure is just one piece of what Microsoft has been rolling out in New Orleans.

During the four days of the Worldwide Partner Conference, taking place from July 13 to 16 in New Orleans, Microsoft plans to demonstrate Office 2010, Windows 7, Silverlight 3, Windows Mobile 6.5 and Windows Server 2008. In addition to Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer, other high-profile speakers include former General Electric CEO Jack Welch.

A number of Microsoft's flagship next-generation products, including Office 2010, SharePoint Server 2010, Visio 2010 and Project 2010, have reached the technical preview engineering milestone.

In a sign that Microsoft is attempting to evolve with the times, Microsoft Office 2010 will be launched as an online service free to subscribers of Microsoft Live. The move seems to be a counter to Google and other companies rolling out cloud-based productivity applications. Office 2010 will also be offered as a hosted subscription service and an on-premises application, for businesses unwilling to move their productivity application entirely into the cloud.

In addition to Office 2010, Microsoft has been using the conference to highlight Windows 7, for which it plans a suitably massive ramp-up heading to the operating system's Oct. 22 release. Although Microsoft is depending on the operating system to boost its revenues in the midst of the recession and to eliminate bad memories of Vista, it may face an uphill battle when it comes to enterprise adoption; a survey by ScriptLogic suggested that six out of 10 companies would avoid purchasing Windows 7 at the time of its debut.

That same survey, based on responses from 1,000 companies, found that about 34 percent expected to adopt Windows 7 by December 2010, while another 5.4 percent planned on having Windows 7 operating by the end of 2009. The reluctance on the part of IT administrators to adopt the system at its launch was chalked up mostly to concerns over cost and interoperability with pre-existing applications. (Microsoft has attempted to address the latter concern by designing Windows 7 to run applications built specifically for Windows XP.)

Nonetheless, Microsoft plans to disseminate Windows 7 aggressively on a worldwide basis through a combination of price cuts and retailer sales. In addition to discounts for business volume purchasers, Microsoft plans to sell Windows 7 for about 10 percent less than Windows Vista.

Editor's Note: This story has been updated with a pricing structure for Azure once it goes commercial.