Windows Azure Infrastructure Services moves into GA

Today Microsoft announced the general availability of its IaaS offering. This follows last week’s announcement from Amazon, who has reduced the price of Windows Server VMs in anticipation of the Microsoft announcement.

Bill Hilf, GM for Windows Azure emphasized on the availability of PaaS and IaaS under one roof in his blog post.

A few observations from Bill Hilf’s post:

  • IaaS and PaaS and hybrid. Bill highlights the hybrid story as a key differentiating factor of Windows Azure. Microsoft has a good hybrid strategy that cuts across multiple layers. Virtual Networking, the equivalent of Amazon VPC, provides a VPN-based solution to extend the data center to the cloud. Service Bus brings the hybrid capabilities at the middle tier, enabling developers to extend the on-premise business logic to cloud. Active Directory Services extend the corporate directory services to the cloud offering single sign-on capability. Finally, SQL Data Sync provides a no-touch mechanism of extending the on-premise database to the cloud. This offers a comprehensive hybrid model to system administrators and developers across the stack.
  • Matching the AWS price. This is very unlike Microsoft. The company never makes a mention of its competitor directly, even when matching the features and the price. Not only has Microsoft openly accepted Amazon as a competitor, it’s also committed to meeting the price point of AWS. This will force all the players, including Google, to reduce the cost of the building block services.
  • Discount-based commitment pricing. This is again inspired by Amazon EC2 Reserved Instances. By committing to run the instances for either 6 months or 12 months, customers can enjoy discounted pricing on the hourly on-demand price of the VMs. But unlike Amazon EC2 Reserved Instances, Windows Azure doesn’t lock the customers to a specific instance type or size. Customers only need to commit a certain amount of monthly billing to get discounts on any Windows Azure resource including IaaS and PaaS. This model is fundamentally different from AWS and makes it appealing for customers.
  • New VM templates and instance types. Microsoft wants the high-end workloads to run on its cloud platform. To encourage this, Windows Azure now offers SQL Server 2012, BizTalk Server 2013 and SharePoint Server 2013 images based on an hourly pricing model. Along with this, the larger memory instance types offer 4 core x 28GB RAM and 8 core x 56GB RAM. These instance types will make it easy to run compute and memory intense applications.
  • Better support across the stack. Bill plays the enterprise card against AWS by claiming that enterprise is in the company’s DNA. While AWS keeps reminding its customers about the shared responsibility and doesn’t support the software that runs inside the VM, being a platform company, MS has an undue advantage as the custodian of the complete stack. This will entice enterprise customers to shift the workloads running Exchange, SQL and SharePoint to Windows Azure.

I hope that Microsoft has fixed the issue of low IOPS on the VMs. To really match Amazon EC2 performance, Windows Azure should support SSD based provisioned IOPS. Till then, it is challenging to port applications with intense IO operations to the Microsoft cloud.