Microsoft TechEd 2013: Windows Azure Differentiates From the Crowd

Microsoft announced a series of dev and test capabilities for Windows Azure, plus BizTalk cloud services that set Azure apart from the competition.

Microsoft has been gradually and consistently evolving its Windows Azure cloud platform to differentiate it from other competing offerings. At the Microsoft TechEd 2013 conference, the software giant gets to show off some of the new ways Microsoft is positioning Windows Azure and making developers offers they might find very hard to refuse.

Some of the specific features Microsoft is unveiling at TechEd this week in New Orleans, especially for developers, is a new set of dev and test capabilities, said Scott Guthrie, corporate vice president of the server and tools business at Microsoft, in an interview with eWEEK.

“I think that this is really for a lot of people [who] aren’t really using the cloud today. This is going to be an unbeatable offer, where if you’re an MSDN customer or a Visual Studio .NET customer, you kind of can’t afford not to be using Windows Azure once this comes out,” Guthrie said.

Specifically, what Microsoft is doing is the cloud really enables the platform that’s ideal for developer and test scenarios, in the sense that it’s elastic and developers can very quickly spin up resources as they need them and tear them down, and the pay-only-for-what-you-use model with Windows Azure specifically enables this and makes it very cost effective.

Because even a team with solutions based on-premise can still use the cloud to spin up VMs to run on .NET, Windows Server, SQL, all the standard products they do today within them and if they need more they can just add more VMs in a manner of minutes. They don’t have to call IT and wait a couple of hours or a couple of days to get infrastructure, Guthrie said.

“And because you can turn off the VMs overnight or on the weekends, you can spin a lot of VMs for a few hours and shut them down,” he said. “And you’re only paying for when they’re running. That’s super cost effective for dev/test because it ends up being very elastic and very versatile.”

The core of it is you can already do this with Microsoft’s Infrastructure as a Service and already spin up VMs, but among the specific things the company is announcing at TechEd next week is the ability to shut down your VMs and pause them, and billing will stop. Previously you had to delete the VMs for billing to stop. Now users have the ability to stop and start VMs at will. When you hit the stop button all the billing stops, you push start and it starts back up again. It’s much more flexible, Guthrie said.

In addition, “We’re moving from a per-hour billing model to a per-minute billing model,” he said. “We’re doing this across all Azure services, so it benefits production apps as well. But the nice thing about this feature is now if I only use six minutes of a VM, I only pay for the six minutes of the VM that I’m using. Previously both Windows Azure and Amazon would bill you for the entire hour above a certain threshold. Now we only charge you for the minutes you use and we’re really the only cloud provider out there that has that true model. Google a few weeks ago announced per-minute billing, but they still round you up to 10-minute increments. So if you do six minutes they’ll still charge you for 10. With Azure, we’re the first cloud where if you use six minutes we’ll only charge you for six minutes."