Microsoft's Azure cloud is officially open for business

Microsoft's Azure cloud is officially open for business

Summary: As of February 1, Microsoft officially jumps into the cloud-computing frey and now is charging customers for developing and running apps in its Azure cloud. Microsoft is counting on developers and customers wanting a (mostly) familiar operating environment, middleware and development infrastructure whether they are writing apps that can run on-premises, in the cloud or both. Now that the meter is running, we'll see whether devs and users agree....


As of February 1, Microsoft officially jumps into the cloud-computing frey and now is charging customers for developing and running apps in its Azure cloud.

(Update: Microsoft's Azure team said charges actually won't commence until Tuesday February 2,  in order to sync up billing across time zones. "Microsoft will begin charging for Windows Azure and SQL Azure starting at 12:00 AM February 2, 2010 GMT to ensure that customers and partners are not charged for their free usage in the month of January," said the team in a February 1 posting annoucing Azure general availability.)

Microsoft has been working on Azure for more than three years; beta testers have been kicking its tires for more than a year. With Azure, Microsoft is attempting to recreate its Windows ecosystem in the form of a utility. Today, developers and customers can develop and deploy on the Windows Azure operating system and make use of the SQL Azure hosted database. In the coming months, Microsoft will make available to developers its Azure AppFabric Web-service utilities. And as 2010 progresses, Microsoft is slated to make available to developers and customers more of the on-premises "private cloud" complements to Azure.

While many (including yours truly), describe Azure as Microsoft's "cloud," Microsoft actually has many different public and private clouds. Very few Microsoft properties are currently hosted on Azure. Those that are include Live Mesh, Microsoft's HealthVault service and its energy-monitoring Hohm service. Mega-scale services like Windows Hotmail and Xbox Live don't run on Azure. Neither does Microsoft's hosted Exchange Online, SharePoint Online, CRM Online, its Business Productivity Online Suite (BPOS) or its Danger services for mobile devices. Microsoft hasn't provided a timetable as to when (or definitively if) it will move these services to Azure.

Microsoft officials say that there already are "tens of thousands" of apps and services running on Azure, a total which includes everything from pilot "hobbyist" apps, to full-fledged commercial ones. (February 1 is the cut-off date, by the way, for those with Azure Community Technology Preview accounts to decide wehther they are going to upgrade to paying account ; Microsoft is advising userswho don't want to subscribe  to export their data pronto so it won't be deleted.)

But is Azure really ready for prime-time, as Microsoft flips the commercial switch?

Cloud expert and author of Cloud Computing with the Windows Azure Platform (Wrox, 2009) Roger Jennings says yes. He's been running a Windows Azure Table Sample Project he created and has been seeing a majority of 100 percent uptime weeks.

"I’ve been happy with the capabilities and performance of the SQL Azure Database, as well as the free supporting applications for it, such as George Huey’s SQL Server Migration Wizard and the Sync Framework Team’s SQL Azure Data Sync tool. Both tools export schemas and data from on-premises SQL Server databases to SQL Azure in the cloud."

Early Azure customers have tended to use Azure for "cloudbursting," notes Directions on Microsoft analyst Rob Sanfilippo, via which Microsoft's datacenters provide overflow capacity to add to what customers currently have available on-prmises, so as to be able to handle peak demands without having to make permanent infrastructure investments.

Azure is still "a fledgling platform," Sanfilippo says, "and it will take large deployments and time to prove its scalability, stability, and security. It doesn't yet offer administrator control of a Windows Server virtual machine like Amazon currently does, but this has been promised for later in 2010 with an upcoming 'virtual machine roles' feature. Advanced features of SQL Server such as reporting and analytics are not yet available with SQL Azure (again, promised for later), and the previously promised Workflow and Live Services components have been delayed. Improvements could also be made by providing more online administration tools and closer parity with Microsoft's on-premises products (yes, these are promised too)."

Developers have a number of tools for not only migrating existing apps to Azure, as Jennings points out, but also for developing new apps from scratch. Microsoft has been working with a variety of partners to make open-source tools available for Azure -- everything from Eclipse, to PHP. Silverlight can be used for SQL Azure clients, "but most Windows Azure devs probably will stick with ASP.NET Web roles for now, move to MVC with Visual Studio 2010, and Silverlight as they come up to speed with it next year," Jennings says.

Microsoft faces some big competitors in the cloud, ranging from Amazon, to Google, to Salesforce, to IBM. It also already is facing pricing pressures, with developers pushing the Redmondians to offer a lower-end, hosting-centric pricing to compete with ISPs (as opposed to the full-fledged operating-system-centric infrastructure that Azure currently is). Microsoft still has yet to articulate exactly how it and when it plans to mirror its public-cloud Azure environment for customers who want and need to keep their data in-house. (Microsoft has said it plans to offer a public-to-private cloud. And it still has a lot of behind-the-scenes work to do to get its reseller partners onboard with Azure.

MIcrosoft is counting on developers and customers wanting more, not less, in the cloud. Microsoft is banking on coders wanting a (mostly) familiar operating environment, middleware and development infrastructure whether they are writing apps that can run on-premises, in the cloud or both.  Now that the meter is running, we'll see whether devs and users agree....

Topics: Microsoft, Data Centers, Data Management, Enterprise Software, Operating Systems, Software, Software Development, Windows


Mary Jo has covered the tech industry for 30 years for a variety of publications and Web sites, and is a frequent guest on radio, TV and podcasts, speaking about all things Microsoft-related. She is the author of Microsoft 2.0: How Microsoft plans to stay relevant in the post-Gates era (John Wiley & Sons, 2008).

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  • Live Mesh is not running on Azure

    Hi MJ,
    Live Mesh is NOT running on Azure. I'm puzzled as to why you think that it is.
    • Live Mesh on Azure?


      Microsoft told me that it was:

      Do you know differently? I wonder if it used to be and then they decided not to host it there?

      Mary Jo Foley
      • re Live Mesh on Azure?

        Yeah I know that that is not the case. Unfortunately I can't point to any online resources that prove that assertion but nonetheless I'm certain that it is true.

        I went to an Azure briefing in London in March '09 where the speaker was James Conard ( James was telling us about the Azure roadmap as it existed at that time and I specificaly asked the question about Live Services (because he did not mention it); his reply was basically that "those guys are doing their own thing now".

        The slide that you show in the blog post you linked to existed in the PDC08 timeframe but it was only ever conceptual (and aspirational) - it never reflected what was actually being built. That's why that slide never gets shown these days and also why you never hear of "Sharepoint Services" & "Dynamics CRM Solutions" being mentioned in the context of Azure any more.

        Also, don't forget that Live Mesh is now being moved into Windows Live; the Windows Live platform has been running since well before Azure was even mooted. I'm sure the long term view is that it will be moved onto Azure but I don't see that happening any time soon.

        • Live Mesh and Azure

          Hi. Good point, re: the move into Windows of Live Mesh.

          MS is no longer touting the Live Framework as part of Azure. I wasn't sure if that was just a slideware thing, or if it was because Live Framework isn't/won't be hosted on Azure.

          I'll try asking about Live Mesh and Azure again today. MS doesn't seem to want to talk about Live Mesh any more, however... Make of that what you will.

          I'll update this blog post if Live Mesh is no longer an Azure thing. Thanks for bringing it to my attention. MJ
          Mary Jo Foley
          • re: Live Mesh and Azure

            My pleasure!

            I'm pretty sure I know what's going on with Live Mesh (i.e. its all being rolled into Windows Live) but of course MSFT will never confirm it and it does raise the question of what is happening to the Live Framework. The question about Live Framework is the one I *really* want an answer to as I was involved in the tech preview even before PDC08.

            I suspect all will be revealed at MIX10 and I *also* strongly suspect that Windows Live (incorporating the old Live Mesh stuff) will play a big part in WinMo 7; hence why at PDC09 Ozzie mentioned both WinMo7 and Windows Live in the same sentence when he said they would both be covered at Mix10.

            This is all speculative of course.


          • It took a day, re: Live Mesh

            But here's MS' comment. They claim Live Mesh is still running on Azure and said if anyone had evidence to the contrary to let me/them know.

            The spokesperson's statement:

            "Live Mesh does still use Windows Azure for some of its storage needs which has always been the case."

            Mary Jo Foley
          • Hmm?

            "MS is no longer touting the Live Framework as part of Azure."

          • Live Framework and Azure

            Yes, I know there are still Azure links on the page.

            But this is what the Live Framework guys said re: positioning, last summer:


            Mary Jo Foley
          • re: Live Framework and Azure

            >Yes, I know there are still Azure
            >links on the page.

            Indeed, although it refers to the "Azure Services Platform" which is a term that hasn't been used in a long time; it seems to have disappeared along with the Azure Services Platform slide that we pointed out earlier and which was ubiquitous in the PDC08 timeframe.
          • Live Mesh's demise...

            and I'm sure that's what has become of it -- is a crying shame. I figured a while back based on bits I'd read at various sites that it was dead, so I moved to Live Sync several months ago. It's definitely more polished, but I do miss the 'mesh' portion of it. I've gathered that they plan to integrate SkyDrive with Live Sync, so we'll see.

            I normally have an ironclad policy: no beta software will run on my home PCs. But I did make an exception for Live Mesh, since it was so freaking useful.
          • ...

            The name "Live Mesh" won't exist anymore but all the features will do - they're just getting rolled into Windows Live. You'll still be able to sync files between different machines, you'll still be able to view them on the web and I've no doubt that all your existing Live Mesh hosted files will get migrated into Windows Live. In other words, dont panic!
  • Wonderful day to be alive...

    We deployed our first official Azure application last night. My rep came over and put out a full spread of pizza and Retro Pepsi for the MCSE's to enjoy. We then deployed our app to the Azure cloud after a formal countdown. As the clock hit the zero hour, we deployed the app and recorded the event for later viewing on our Zune players. In order to recognize reduced TCO and improved ROI, I fired 3 MCSE's on the spot. My rep nodded in agreement as we escorted the latest victims of the cloud computing economy out the door. My rep and I then went to Yarrow's for a formal meal.
    Mike Cox
    • We have a 10. Drum roll...rim shot....cymbal smash

      Sorry MJ. It is Mike Cox.
      • Being a drummer

        and a bit of a spelling Nazi, I have to correct you on your spelling. Drum "cymbals" are spelled with a C with an A at the end.
        The one and only, Cylon Centurion
        • I stand corrected erudite Prof. Stalnecker

    • Too funny....nt

    • Same Story over and over

      We have heard this story when the car came out, when the assembly line came out, when computers came out, etc.. There is nothing wrong with technology taking over peoples jobs. If that did not happen we would still be stuck in the dark ages growing our own crops and raising our own cattle.
      • Um...Yeah but...

        Up until until the 1980s, increases in technology provided more and abundant replacement jobs with better pay. That's how industrial United States enticed farm workers off their farms and into factories. Better pay, shorter work days, easier kinds of work, more jobs than people to fill them, etc.

        Today new tech is about replacing people with machines. So the job market is shrinking. That would be fine except under capitalism, consumers need jobs to earn money to spend. So the more jobs you lose to technology with out replacements, the less money people have to spend on goods and services. It creates a downward spiral that at first looks like a rush to the bottom on prices but then ends in a severe recession or even depression.

        So technology replacing people looks good on paper but either world societies will have to shift to socialism or artificial economies where people work in pointless jobs that have no real meaning, entertainers, or athletics to provide incomes for people participating in their economies.
        • RE: Um...Yeah but...

          "Today new tech is about replacing people with machines."

          People have been replaced with machines for centuries, not a big deal.
  • It will be a hit

    I think Azure will be a hit, especially for small-to-medium size businesses.