Microsoft opens up Azure to local audience

Data storage and transfer costs more expensive in Asia Pacific, but still "cheap as chips" according to one vendor

Microsoft's Australia BizSpark Camp was held recently, with Mark Burch taking top honours for his EyeKnowIt Azure deployment.

Microsoft's Australia BizSpark Camp was held recently, with Mark Burch taking top honours for his EyeKnowIt Azure deployment.

Microsoft has launched its Azure cloud platform in Australia, letting developers deploy applications on the company's data centres in North American, Europe and in the Asia Pacific.

However, deployments to the closest and fastest data centre - Asia Pacific - will cost three times as much as the other data centres.

While pricing is the same for Microsoft's Azure data centres in Europe and North America, costing $0.10 per gigabyte in and $0.15 per gigabyte out, deployments to the Asia Pacific data centre will cost $0.30 and $0.45 respectively for the same service.(See all prices.)

Azure, released locally in conjunction with Visual Studio 2010 and .NET Framework 4 is Microsoft's first entry into the cloud computing and storage market, competing against Amazon's suite of AWS services, as well as Salesforce.com and local hosted data centres. The platform was available to trial globally during January this year, but was cut-off to Australian users from 1 February, when it was officially launched across North America, Europe and Singapore. The second wave, launched this week, sees Australian developers welcomed back into the fold and the announcement of a free introductory special that includes limited compute hours and data storage allowances.

Microsoft also offers a pay-as-you-go consumption scheme for Azure, with set pricing for data storage and transfers, SQL Azure, and tiered pricing for AppFabric Service Bus connections, with packages of up to 500 connections for $1093.41. Alternatively, developers can purchase the Development Accelerator Core or Development Accelerator Extended packages, priced at $65.88 and $120.82 respectively for a six-month commitment. Both provide 750 compute hours on the platform, 10GB of data storage, one million storage and AppFabric access control transactions, as well as a set amount of data transfer allowances. The more expensive Development Accelerator Extended package also includes an SQL Azure Business Database up to 10GB in size.

While Development Accelerator Core and Development Accelerator Extended packages include seven gigabytes in and 14 gigabytes out of North American and European data centres, this is reduced to two and a half gigabytes in and five gigabytes out when deploying applications to the Asia Pacific data centre.

To aid migration of existing applications and data to the new cloud service, Microsoft is allowing companies to transfer data into its data centres for free during off-peak time periods for each individual data centre. The offer ends on 30 June, after which all data transfers will be charged as normal.

Amazon is also offering customers free data transfers into its data centres during both on and off-peak time periods until 30 June this year.

Microsoft does not disclose the exact locations of its data centres in the three regions, but the company's Director of Developer and Platform Evangelism, Gianpaolo Carraro, told Computerworld Australia that the Asia Pacific data centre was situated in the Singapore time zone.

Carraro said the higher prices for using the Asia Pacific data centre was "a reflection on the cost of bandwidth in those different regions".

"Bandwidth is more expensive in Asia than it is Europe or North America, and that reflects in the price that we are then charging customers," he said. "I don't think it's going to keep them out of that region."

Carraro said that the Asia Pacific data centre will continue to be "an additional data point that businesses will have to think about when they make a decision." Microsoft was looking into making it more cost effective through economies of scale, but had no plans to lower prices in the future.

"We are always looking at making the most cost effective platform possible, we just need to take into consideration the market conditions in which we are delivering those services, and reflect the appropriate price points," he said.

Microsoft Australia’s Server Business Group Director, Phil Goldie, told Computerworld Australia last month that Microsoft would look at local Azure data centres if Australian demand for the cloud service grows.

Nick Holmes a Court, chief executive officer of social media monitoring company BuzzNumbers, said that while the performance advantages of a closer data centre in the Asia Pacific would be beneficial for developers looking to provide a competitive speed of delivery, his company would stick to deployments in North America. Labelling Australian data hosting prices "highway robbery", Holmes a Court said BuzzNumbers would deploy to either the North American or Asia Pacific Azure data centres, "though North American is a little bit cheaper so we would go there for now".

"I would love to see that compared to Macquarie Telecom or Web Central," he said. "I think they would be charging dollars per gigabyte for data transfers. Both of those prices are extremely cheap compared to any Australian hosting we've ever used."

BuzzNumbers, which includes a major Australian telco, Red Bull, Energy Australia and Microsoft itself among its customers, was runner-up at the recent Australia BizSpark Camp for its Blogosaur start-up offering, based on .NET and deployed on Azure. Though initially cautious about the hype surrounding Microsoft's cloud platform, the company has now committed to migrating hundreds of terabytes it has in social media information to Windows Azure.

"We want to write great software," Holmes a Court said in an interview. "We don't want to manage data centres, we don't want to deal with patch updates to servers and we don't want to manage scaling and backups. We just want to do what we do really well."

"We're Salesforce customers, we've used Amazon in the past," he said. "For Amazon, there was a huge learning curve for us that we weren't really familiar with. In using Azure, not only did we get an infrastructure that we could scale, but also the tools and things necessary to help us build, and that was really necessary for us."

According to Holmes a Court, the .NET integration and the "cheap as chips" pricing were the main take-aways in Windows Azure, is it allowed for a lower total cost of ownership and faster scalability of applications and deployments directly to customers.

Microsoft is selling Windows Azure off the back of the strong .NET developer community, the release of Visual Studio 2010, and the ability to deploy applications in a number of geographic locations at differing speeds depending on the needs of the client.

"If you think of the tens of thousands of .NET developers that exist in Australia right now, they are automatically becoming cloud developers using Azure," Carraro said. "The fact that we created this familiar environment that is accessed through Visual Studio, which is the same platform they use for their current application development, is a clear and very appealing differentiation of our platform."

"The key element is that people are not linked to their geographical location, they can decide where to deploy," he said. "That's something that was very important to have people understand, because it becomes a choice of the customer where they deploy, as opposed to forced by the vendor".

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