Microsoft Makes Infrastructure Cloud Generally Available, Matches AWS Prices
Today, Microsoft took their Infrastructure-as-a-Service (IaaS) cloud product – called Windows Azure Infrastructure Services – out of preview and made it available to the general public. Microsoft is entering a crowded IaaS market but they’ve committed to matching cloud leader Amazon Web Services (AWS) on price while also promising enterprise-class SLAs and services. InfoQ talked to Windows Azure General Manager Steven Martin to learn a bit more about this major launch.
The Windows Azure platform – first announced by then-Chief Architect Ray Ozzie in 2008 – began as a set of services that developers could use to build and deploy modern, scalable web applications. Over the past five years it has grown to also include mobile-backend-as-a-service, media distribution, identity management, application integration, data management, and more. The platform’s latest addition is Windows Azure Infrastructure Services which lets users provision and manage both Windows and Linux virtual machines. Today Microsoft announced its general availability after running the service in an extended beta period since June 2012. A Microsoft blog post identified three major updates to the product to coincide with the release: a significant price decrease, new “high memory” virtual machine instance options, and additional support for virtual machines images running Microsoft’s own software.
Customers have also told me that they don’t want to have to choose either a low price or good performance; they want a low price and good performance. That’s why today we are also announcing a commitment to match Amazon Web Services prices for commodity services such as compute, storage and bandwidth. This starts with reducing our GA prices on Virtual Machines and Cloud Services by 21-33%.
As part of our new Infrastructure Services release, we’ve added in new high memory VM instances (28GB/4 core and 56 GB/8 core) to run your most demanding workloads. We also learned more about the apps you want to run so we’ve added in a number of new Microsoft validated instances to our list including SQL Server, SharePoint, BizTalk Server, and Dynamics NAV to name a few.
So why has it taken nearly a year to formally launch this product? According to Martin, it’s because Microsoft “had to get this right.” With hundreds of millions of core computing hours consumed during the last year, Martin claims that it is “one of the most thoroughly tested products we’ve ever had.” When asked if Microsoft is late to the IaaS game, Martin replied that Microsoft has been involved in IaaS since the inception of the industry through its significant licensing agreements with cloud providers including AWS. Until now, Microsoft has relied on resellers and partners to deliver infrastructure clouds that use Microsoft software. No longer. Martin says that their customers now want them offer IaaS directly. This is reminiscent to when Microsoft released the Microsoft Surface after being dissatisfied with the tablet experience offered by partners. Windows Azure Infrastructure Services is a case of Microsoft taking responsibility for the entire technology stack used by their customers. Martin considers this a major differentiator for Windows Azure compared to other clouds that only license – but don’t support – Microsoft software. He says that customers want to be able to call a single phone number and get help with their application (e.g SharePoint), infrastructure (e.g. Windows Server), and the cloud that’s running it (e.g. Windows Azure).
In his extensive career at Microsoft and multiple startups, Martin claims to have never seen a product grow as quickly as Windows Azure which now has more than 200,000 customers and adds over 1,000 new customers each day. Martin thinks that with the addition of IaaS to Windows Azure, the impressive growth will continue as customers identify them as the only cloud provider with a fully supported PaaS and IaaS cloud platform that works in public and hybrid scenarios. By committing to always match AWS on price for compute, network and storage, Martin says “we won’t be undersold” and wants to ensure that cost is never a reason for a customer to look elsewhere. Instead, he hopes that their low costs, coupled with tight integration with their own products like management suite Microsoft System Center, makes Microsoft an attractive choice for enterprise customers. He also highlighted their aggressive SLA that offers 99.95% availability, measure monthly (not annually), and the deep pockets to back it up. Martin says its important to understand not just what applications and scenarios make sense for the cloud, but also when it makes sense. An application may be a good match for the cloud, but the timing is not right. He thinks Microsoft is uniquely positioned to address an organization’s entire application portfolio because they can offer a mix of on-premises and cloud-based solutions that address an organization’s requirements today and in the future.