Microsoft has released more details of plans for Windows Azure, its operating environment for cloud-based provisioning of applications and computing resources.
The services will be based on Windows Azure for core services, the SQL Azure back-end database and .Net Services Azure for orchestration with commercial availability for countries including the UK served by datacentres in Dublin, Singapore and the US due in the fourth calendar quarter of this year. In early 2010, more datacentres and countries will be added.
Tariffs will include pay-as-you-go terms, subscriptions and volume licensing and basic prices are 12 US cents per compute hour, 15 cents per GB of storage per month and one cent per 10,000 transactions. To reassure customers over reliability and availability - two crucial hurdles for cloud computing to overcome -- Microsoft said it will issue a 10 per cent credit if connectivity dips below 99.95 per cent per month or if storage and availability of instances fall below 99.9 per cent per month.
Microsoft said that the key advantage of Azure will be the ability to stretch capabilities across geographical boundaries and the chance to leap on opportunities (or cope with demand spikes) that would not be available with a traditional internal IT department unless utilisation ceilings were set very high.
"If you're a business in Birmingham and have an opportunity in Venezuela, Azure will allow you do [capitalise] on that," said Microsoft's Mark Taylor.
At an event in London last week, Microsoft lined up a series of customers ready to deploy Azure.
"Customers are saying, 'guys, we need to save some money now so we need to do something about us being able to respond to customers quickly and efficiently'," said Jon Poynton, commercial director of TBS, a developer of software for field service workers. "Azure removes 'lumps' in cost and we don't have to install services packs and patches."
TBS said that converting an existing Windows application to run on Azure "is not a simple recompile but it could be harder".
Richard Prodger of AWS, a company that offers a satellite-based service for rescuing men overboard in fishing areas, has developed a proof-of-concept on Azure. Azure represents a "a perfect fit", he said, supporting plans to extend the service out, for example, to leisure craft.
"You can't take any app and stick it in Azure," Prodger said, "but it's not a paradigm shift for developers."
Bert Craven, enterprise architect at Easyjet.com, said, "The question we're always asking is how can we try out a new idea at very low cost then scale it or fail it very quickly. For us, Azure is a low-cost sandbox that let's is go from innovation to full-blown service very, very quickly."
Both TBS and AWS contended that the closeness of relationship with Microsoft would make it a better bet than rival platforms such as Amazon.com's Elastic Compute Cloud. Amazon.com declined to comment, citing "a long-standing policy ... of not discussing other companies".