Microsoft Dramatically Lowers Azure Pricing for Developers

MSDN subscribers get a host of new benefits as well, including credit toward Azure time, making cloud-based development free in some cases.

Commencing today, Microsoft is making it cheaper -- much cheaper -- to develop on its Windows Azure cloud. A host of new pricing options was announced at its TechEd conference in New Orleans, and they add up to a strong push from Redmond to get developers over their cloud fears.

Microsoft Corporate Vice President Scott Guthrie outlined the changes on his blog. He also discussed them at TechEd today. Using Windows Azure for development and testing, Guthrie said during a TechEd Q & A, " a no-brainer... storage and backup are likewise no-brainers."

A number of changes deal with how developers are charged for using Azure. One of the major ones is that there's no longer a charge for a suspended virtual machine (VM). Previously, if a dev stopped a VM on Azure, but didn't delete it, they were charged for the entire time the VM remained on the cluster. Starting today, there's no charge if the VM is stopped, and the reserved space on the cluster is maintained, along with 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," Guthrie said.

He added that it's common for developers to spin down a VM for an evening or weekend, and pick it up again the next workday. Now, when a developer does that, they're not charged for keeping the VM on the compute cluster.

In addition, Azure billing has been made more granular, now charging by the minute instead of by the hour. In the past, i.e. yesterday, if a developer used a VM for 10 minutes, they were charged for an hour of time. Now that developer will only pay for the 10 minutes of VM use. Guthrie pointed out that typical test/dev work often involves "cycling up/down resources in a very elastic way," and per-minute pricing could save a lot of money in those situations.

Another source of developer frustration was eased with the announcement that test/dev server licenses for those with MSDN subscriptions will transfer to 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," Guthrie said. More than a few developers have wondered why their MSDN licenses didn't carry over to cloud environments, forcing them to buy more licenses after already paying for often-expensive MSDN subscriptions. Many avoided Azure for that reason alone.

The news gets even better for MSDN subscribers, as they will now get discounted test/dev rates on Azure. VMs for the most popular platforms -- Windows Server, SQL Standard and Enterprise, and BizTalk Standard and Enterprise -- will cost just $.06 per hour of use (and, as before, it's being charged in per-minute increments, so using a SQL Enterprise VM for 10 minutes would cost just a penny).

Normally, the per-hour costs for those platforms are higher -- in many cases, much higher. For instance, SQL Standard is typically $.64 per hour, and SQL Enterprise is $2.19 per hour.

Microsoft is going even further than that, actually giving developers a monthly credit for Azure test/dev usage. Depending on the level of MSDN subscription, a developer will get between $50 - $150 toward Azure usage.

At TechEd, Guthrie also said that not all scenarios currently make sense for public clouds. "I wouldn't start by putting your mission-critical SAP systems, your first deployment in the cloud," Guthrie added. But he said that, according to customer feedback, it's not a question of whether or not to move to the cloud, but what areas are best to start with. For example, he said, "Adopting Saas (Software-as-a-Service) is something more and more companies want to do." With the new pricing structure, Microsoft hopes developers will do just that.

About the Author

Keith Ward is the editor in chief of Virtualization & Cloud Review. Follow him on Twitter @VirtReviewKeith.

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