Microsoft steps up free Azure offer

Developers who want to try out Azure for free now have access to 750 hours of a low-powered instance a month, bringing Microsoft's free trial closer to that offered by Amazon

Microsoft has added a requested feature to its free cloud package, in an attempt to build out its Azure developer ecosystem.

The re-styled Free Windows Azure Platform Trial, which requires a credit card to sign up, was announced on Tuesday and will run through to 30 June, 2011.

"For those developers who have yet to experience what it's like to build and deploy applications on the Windows Azure platform, we're unveiling a new introductory special offer as part of the Cloud Power campaign," the Windows Azure Team wrote in a blog post.

The trial has added 750 free hours of a Windows Azure extra-small instance per month to its pre-existing trial package. The virtual machine-based instance has a 1Ghz single-core CPU, 768MBof memory, 20GB of in-instance storage and "low" I/O performance, according to Microsoft.

Azure's billing is based on uptime rather than usage of machines, unlike the pricing used by cloud rival Amazon Web Services (AWS). This means the Azure addition effectively guarantees free uptime for basic compute tasks throughout the month, as it is impossible for any month to contain more than 750 hours.

"We've been asked [for the feature] by a number of people... it's part of that promotion to help people move to the next stage of understanding," Mark Quirk, a Microsoft technical product manager for Windows Azure, told ZDNet UK.

Quirk suggested that two possible uses for the service could be building a website or running an e-commerce operation. "But there's also the ability to take internal applications and extend them with the integration technology that's part of Windows Azure," he added.

Azure free trial

The initial Azure free trial launched in February 2010. The 750 hours of extra-small instance time is being added to these existing trial features: 25 hours of a small instance; 500MB of storage transfers in and out per region; 500 MB of storage; 10,000 storage transactions; a 1GB Web Edition database for the cloud database services SQL Azure, for the first three months; and 100,000 Access Control transactions and two Service Bus connections for the middleware AppFabric service.

It's a good offer; essentially it gives people the ability to do a test over a realistic time period.

– Mark Quirk, Microsoft

"It's a good offer; essentially it gives people the ability to do a test over a realistic time period," Quirk said.

Any monthly usage in excess of the free parts of the offer will be charged at standard rates, Microsoft said.

Microsoft has many rivals in the cloud, including Google, Rackspace and the current dominant player AWS. In October, AWS announced its own free usage introductory offer. With the addition of an always-on instance to its introductory offer, Microsoft's trial is roughly similar to that offered by AWS.

Differences remain, but they are relatively specific: AWS's low-powered instance has 613MB of RAM — less than Microsoft's — but has two processors rather than one.


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