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Microsoft To Developers: Our Cloud is Ideal for Application Development and Testing

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Last week, Microsoft shipped a series of improvements to Windows Azure that were focused on cost control and lower barrier to entry. While they updated their cloud services – including SSL support for Windows Azure Web Sites and introducing a new integration service – Microsoft’s primary updates were targeted directly at developers who are considering the cloud for their development and testing environments.

In a pair of blog posts, Microsoft Vice President Scott Guthrie highlighted the major components of this latest release of Windows Azure. Guthrie announced that Microsoft was moving to a per-minute billing plan for its cloud services. The new Google Compute Engine also uses a per-minute billing model, but requires a ten minute minimum. No such restriction exists for Windows Azure.

Prior to today, our pricing model for compute resources on Windows Azure billed at the per-hour granularity.  This meant if you ran a VM for 6 minutes in an hour and then turned it off, we would still charge you for a full hour of usage.  Now, with today’s update, we are billing at a per-minute granularity.  So if you run a VM (or Cloud Service, or Web Site, or Mobile Service) for only 6 minutes in an hour, we now only charge you for the actual 6 minutes of compute usage (we pro-rate the hourly price – so the billed price is num_minutes * (hr rate)/60).

Guthrie also shared that Windows Azure users would no longer be charged compute time for “stopped” virtual machines. This differs from Amazon EC2 which only charges users for servers in a “running” state, but requires users to completely terminate a server in order to stop billing. Guthrie described how Windows Azure is different.

Prior to today, when you stopped a VM on Windows Azure we kept a reserved deployment spot for it inside one of our compute clusters, and continued to bill you for the VM compute unless you explicitly deleted the deployment.  Now, with today’s update, when you stop a VM we no longer charge you any compute time for it while it is stopped – yet we still preserve the deployment state and configuration.  This makes it incredibly easy to stop VMs when you aren’t actively using them to avoid billing charges, and then restart them when you want to use them again.

Developers who buy an annual MSDN subscription can now use their corresponding software licenses in Windows Azure for development and test purposes. This ends an extended period of confusion about how developers could legally run Microsoft software within Windows Azure instances. Guthrie explained the changes.

Prior to today, it wasn’t (legally) possible to use the dev/test server licenses provided with MSDN subscriptions in a hosted cloud environment.  The product usage rights of the MSDN server licenses didn’t allow them to be used in either our cloud nor anyone else's cloud environment.

Today we are announcing that we are changing the MSDN use-rights so that you can now use your MSDN dev/test software licenses on Windows Azure.  This allows you to install and use your MSDN dev/test server images for SQL Server, SharePoint, BizTalk, etc at no extra charge within Windows Azure VMs.

Moreover, Microsoft announced significantly discounted rates for developers who use Windows Azure when developing or testing applications. MSDN subscribers can now use any Windows Azure server template for a cost of $0.06 per hour. In an example given in his blog post, Guthrie shows that a typical Windows Azure virtual machine running SQL Server Enterprise edition costs $2.19 per hour, but now MSDN subscribers can run the same server for only $0.06 per hour. Each month, MSDN subscriber gets credits that they can apply towards Windows Azure usage. Previously, developers were given an allotment of credits for each Windows Azure service.Now, Microsoft has simplified the experience by providing an all-up credit that can be applied however the developer wants. Guthrie described how this works.

We are making the above discounted rates even more compelling by also giving every MSDN subscriber up to $150 per month of monetary credits that can be used to run any Windows Azure resource for Dev/Test purposes.  MSDN Professional Subscribers will be provided with $50/month, MSDN Premium Subscribers with $100/month, and MSDN Ultimate Subscribers with $150/month.

These monetary credits can be applied towards any Windows Azure resource being used for Dev/Test purposes.  This includes: Virtual Machines (both Windows and Linux), SQL Databases, Cloud Services, Web Sites, Mobile Services, Hadoop Clusters, BizTalk Services, Storage, Media and more.  The previous per-unit restrictions in place with the old MSDN offer are also being removed – instead you now have a monetary credit that can be applied and mixed/matched on resources however you want.

Windows Azure BizTalk Services (WABS) was also announced by Guthrie as part of this release. Originally branded Windows Azure Service Bus EAI Bridges during its preview in 2011, WABS provides a cloud-hosted integration engine that can connect cloud endpoints, or cloud endpoints to on-premises systems.

Windows Azure BizTalk Services provides Business-to-Business (B2B) and Enterprise Application Integration (EAI) capabilities for cloud and hybrid integration solutions.  It includes built-in support for managing EDI relationships between partners, as well as EAI bridges with on-premises assets – including built-in support for integrating with on-premises SAP, SQL Server, Oracle and Siebel systems.  You can also optionally integrate Windows Azure BizTalk Services with on-premises BizTalk Server deployments – enabling powerful hybrid enterprise solutions.

BizTalk Services runs on a secure, dedicated per tenant, environment that you can provision on demand in a matter of minutes.  It does not require any upfront license, and supports a pay only for what you use billing model

Additionally, Microsoft included SSL support for the Windows Azure Web Sites service. Unlike the Windows Azure Cloud Services which offer virtual machine-oriented web application hosting, Windows Azure Web Sites is for pure web applications that may run in a container on a shared server. Up until now, one primary reason to use Cloud Services instead of Web Sites was to deliver a secure browsing experience with SSL. Now, developers who upgrade from the Shared instance type to a Reserved instance type can deploy either IP Address Based SSL Bindings or SNI Based SSL Bindings for their web applications.

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