Windows Azure moves into paid mode

Following a month of free usage, Azure customers must start paying for Microsoft's cloud-computing service or risk having data deleted
Written by Matthew Broersma, Contributor

Microsoft's Windows Azure cloud services switched into commercial mode as of Monday, following a month of free usage designed to allow customers to get a feel for the pay-as-you-go offering.

The Azure Services Platform allows applications to be run on Microsoft datacentres using the Windows Azure cloud operating system. Azure officially launched in November and went live on 4 January.

Microsoft offered Community Technology Preview (CTP) tokens for Azure up to 4 January. Regions including the UK, most other European countries and the US will switch to paid mode as of Monday, the company said in a blog post.

A second group of countries including Australia and Brazil will retain free usage until April 2010, while customers in remaining countries will make the switch at the beginning of July.

In its blog post, Microsoft urged companies to move their projects to the paid-for platform or risk having their service shut off.

"Customers who have yet to upgrade their CTP accounts to paid commercial subscriptions are encouraged to do so at the earliest in order to maintain access to their accounts. Customers who have not yet upgraded their Windows Azure CTP accounts will have their service disabled and any Windows Azure Storage will be made read-only," the company said.

Microsoft said it will start deleting SQL Azure accounts that have not been upgraded on 1 March, and Windows Azure Storage accounts on 1 April.

With Azure, Microsoft is moving into the datacentre business, a significant shift for a company that has historically relied on sales of software licences. Microsoft has said it believes Azure will allow it to claim a higher proportion of companies' IT budgets, as they decommission servers and pay Microsoft for computing resources as well as software. The company competes in the cloud-computing field with IBM, HP, Oracle and others.

Microsoft has published a commercial rollout plan with more details on the switchover.

A standard virtualised Windows server on Azure is priced starting at 12 cents (7.2p) per hour, depending on usage of processing power and other resources. Storage is priced starting at 9.1p per gigabyte per month, plus 0.6p for every 10,000 transactions. SQL Server on Azure costs £6.05 per month for a 1GB database.

On Wednesday, Microsoft rolled out a no-charge introductory offer that gives users a limited amount of monthly usage and is available through the end of July.

The offer includes a basic level of compute time, storage and data transfers, Access Control transactions, Service Bus connections and access to a SQL Azure database, and will run until 31 July, after which users will be charged standard rates.

In December, Microsoft announced the creation of the Server and Cloud Division (SCD), specifically designed to address the cloud computing market, and intended to indicate Azure's move from a development project to a growing business.

The SCD is a unit within the Server and Tools Business (STB), which combines the Windows Azure group with the Windows Server and Solutions group.

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