Microsoft is taking votes via a new Azure forum ("My Great Windows Azure Idea") as to what kinds of new features and functionality developers and users would like to see in Azure, Microsoft's cloud platform.
The No. 1 suggestion so far: "Make it less expensive to run my very small service on Windows Azure." The No. 2 suggestion, in terms of votes, is also pricing related; It's continue to offer Azure free to developers. (Microsoft is going to begin charging customers and developers for Azure starting February 1, 2010.)
Microsoft has been emphasizing the savings developers and customers can achieve by using Microsoft servers and infrastructure to run their apps and services. That said, not every app or service could or should be cloud-hostable. Certain legacy applications may be too costly to move to the cloud. Others include data that customers deem as too sensitive or compliancy-laden to be moved there.
Microsoft outlined its pricing plans for Azure in July 2009. Compute time is priced at 12 cents/hour, storage at 15 cents per GB stored and storage transactions at 1 cent per 10K. Azure isn't just a hosting service, however; it was built to be more of a full-fledged development and deployment environment and includes database, middleware and management components, unlike ISP hosting platforms. Many of those additional components, like SQL Azure and AppFabric elements, come at an additional cost.
A number of the posters on the new Azure voting forum said they'd be more interested in trying Azure if Microsoft offered a pricing tier for those interested in experimenting with the technology.
Poster Daniel Chambers was in this camp. He commented:
"(W)hen I saw that Compute Time is measured not in CPU time but the time your site is running (ie real time!) I realised that Azure is ridiculously and prohibitively expensive when compared to shared hosting.
"This doesn't make a lot of sense to me, considering the spirit that Azure seems to be in: pay for what you use. My website would use next to no resources (CPU, data space, bandwidth), so I would have expected that it would cost me very little to host, yet the pricing means that I would have to pay through nose for it!"
Tech writer Tim Anderson recently made the same point: Azure is too expensive for small apps. Anderson (and others) have noted that it's hard to do an apples-to-apples comparison between Microsoft's Azure pricing and that of its cloud competitors or other hosting providers because each vendor's pricing scheme emphasizes different deliverables. But Anderson went on to say:
"A cheap Windows plan with a commodity ISP will cost less than either Amazon EC2 or Azure, but it is worth less, because you don’t get a complete VM as with Amazon, or a managed platform as with Azure, or the scalability of either platform. The point though is that by cutting out smaller businesses, and making small apps excessively expensive for customers of any size – even enterprises run small apps – Azure is creating a significant deterrent to adoption and will lose out to its rivals\."
One commentor on the Azure forum suggested Microsoft add some new pricing tiers and offerings to its line-up. Jouni Heikniemi offered a detailed proposal for a "Mini-Azure" that would offer developers fewer capabilities for a lower price. Heikniemi explained in a blog post:
"The current (Azure) $0.12/hour pricing model (~$86/month) is too expensive for small sites. Hosted LAMP (Linux, Apache, MySQL/PHP) stack offerings are available at a few bucks a month, and that’s a hard price tag to beat."
Heikniemi came up with some interesting new Azure SKUs he said he'd like to see, including a Windows Azure Express bundle for $10 per month and a Windows Azure Compute Small Business Edition, which would allow a processing core to be shared among several sites.