Azure updated in preparation for 2010 “pay-to-play” release

Something changes on New Years Day: Microsoft Azure becomes a paid product. It is a year since Azure was first offered for free as a technology preview, and Microsoft is going to start 2010 by taking the plunge into the world of cloud hosting. The formal announcement was made by Ray Ozzie, Microsoft’s chief software architect at PDC 2009; the Azure preview was first announced by Ozzie at last year’s PDC.

With this step, Microsoft starts on a path that will lead it to become a service provider for potentially millions of customers. Azure has Windows Server as its core, but it was engineered to manage extremely large pools of software processing, storage and networking. All of that hardware and bandwidth will be supplied by Microsoft. As part of its preparation to accommodate the needs of those new customers, it just opened a data center in Chicago; Chris Murphy at InformationWeek visited the new facility and he reports that $500 million has already been spent and there’s plenty of room to house more hardware.

Ozzie told the PDC audience that “tens of thousands of developers” have been playing with Azure over the last year. And as a result of their feedback, Azure has broadened its support beyond the original focus on the .NET framework.

Ozzie:

We now support any kind of Windows code and programming model, and any kind of multi-role, multi-tier service design pattern, supporting extremely flexible binding and arbitrary relationships between roles.

Azure also has a new data storage model, called Xdrive:

Azure storage blobs that are mountable as regular NTFS volumes, a drive mapped, cached, durable volume, accessible by mapping an Azure page blob into an NTFS VHD.

And finally, the Azure database model has been overhauled.

SQL Azure is a true database as a service. It’s a database in the cloud. With SQL Azure you can now simply create a new database whenever you need one. There’s no physical administration, no need to think about memory or virtual machines. It’s got automatic replication. No need to think about disaster recovery; it’s all automatic… We delivered TSQL stored procedures, support for ADO.NET and ODBC, support for PHP and JDBC. Azure SQL even works unmodified against things like Excel.

Microsoft released Azure pricing a few months ago at http://www.microsoft.com/windowsazure/pricing

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