Microsoft's Azure cloud service now available
Microsoft's Windows Azure and SQL Azure cloud services are now generally available, ending the free test period for those who signed up for commercial accounts last month.
The launch represents a key milestone for Microsoft, which has had Azure under development for several years and released it to its developers for beta testing in late 2008.
Though the platform went through numerous changes over the test period, Windows Azure and SQL Azure represent Microsoft's official challenge to Amazon's Elastic Compute Cloud (EC2) service, among other rival offerings.
"Starting today, customers and partners in countries across the globe will be able to launch their Windows Azure and SQL Azure production applications and services with the support of the full Service Level Agreements," Microsoft said on its Windows Azure Team Blog.
Microsoft's AppFabric Service Bus and Access Control will remain free until April 2010 for those that sign up for commercial subscriptions, according to Microsoft.
Microsoft last month also began offering packages for partners to deliver to customers. The company has released a comparison table of offers. Nevertheless, it's still the early days for services such as Azure and EC2, analysts note. Many large enterprises remain concerned about security and compliance issues, saying they are awaiting private cloud offerings.
"It's going to take years — probably five years — for customers to get comfortable enough to move some serious stuff out there," said IDC analyst Al Gillen in a recent interview.
However, a recent survey of 670 IT executives by Saugatuck Research suggests the move might happen sooner. The survey found that while only 3 percent of executives currently see cloud services as an extension of their existing internal IT infrastructures, 50 percent believe it will steadily progress into their portfolios by the end of next year. That number is expected to rise to 76 percent by year-end 2013. Only 14 percent of executives were uncertain if the cloud would become mainstream in their operations.
The release of Azure also sets the stage for Microsoft partners to develop and commercialize applications that they may not have had the resources to build until now, said Directions on Microsoft's Paul DeGroot.
"I don't know if it will be a big profit maker for Microsoft but it's potentially a great deal for the partner channel," he said. "Not only will you have people developing on Azure but many of them do not have delivery mechanisms."
While the official date for Azure's commercial release is today, billing will officially kick in Feb. 2 to ensure that no one in any of the different time zones across the world is charged for usage on Jan. 31, Microsoft said.
Dan Kasun, a senior director for Microsoft's public sector business, posted tips on how to keep usage costs down.
Jeffrey Schwartz is executive editor of Redmond Channel Partner and an editor-at-large at Redmond magazine, affiliate publications of Government Computer News.