Windows Azure Launches IaaS Cloud, Targets Amazon

Windows Azure Launches IaaS Cloud, Targets Amazon

Microsoft announced the general availability of Windows Azure Infrastructure Services (IaaS), the final piece of the puzzle in Microsoft’s broader cloud solution, and committed to match Amazon Web Services on price.

Racks of servers housed inside the Microsoft data center in Dublin, Irelandm which is undergoing a major expansion. (Photo: Microsoft).

Racks of servers housed inside the Microsoft data center supporting Windows Azure cloud services. (Photo: Microsoft).

Taking clear aim at cloud computing leader Amazon Web Services, Microsoft announced the general availability of its Windows Azure Infrastructure Services (IaaS), the final piece of the puzzle in Microsoft’s cloud portfolio, and committed to match Amazon Web Services on pricing.

Microsoft now offers customers a comprehensive hybrid cloud solution that integrates existing IT infrastructure with all the benefits of the public cloud. “Customers don’t want to rip and replace their current infrastructure to benefit from the cloud; they want the strengths of their on-premises investments and the flexibility of the cloud,” writes Bill Hilf, General Manager, Windows Azure Product Management, on the Azure blog. “It’s not only about Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS) or Platform as a Service (PaaS), it’s about Infrastructure Services and Platform Services and hybrid scenarios. The cloud should be an enabler for innovation, and an extension of your organization’s IT fabric, not just a fancier way to describe cheap infrastructure and application hosting.”

Additionally, Microsoft is announcing a commitment to match Amazon Web Services’ prices for commodity services like compute, storage and bandwidth. This starts with reducing GA prices on Virtual Machines and Cloud Services by 21-33 percent. “If you had concerns that Windows Azure was more expensive, we’re putting those concerns to rest today,” GM Steven Martin said. It's worth noting that in matching Amazon's pricing, Microsoft actually appears to have raised prices on some virtual machine instance types that were discounted during the trial period.

Rightscale's recent survey of cloud providers found a trend of aggressive price cutting on the part of cloud providers.

Broadening the Cloud

Microsoft has added in new high memory VM instances (28GB/4 core and 56 GB/8 core) to run demanding workloads.  Based on customer feedback, it has also added in a number of new Microsoft validated instances to its list including SQL Server, SharePoint, BizTalk Server, and Dynamics NAV to name a few.

The broader cloud strategy is enabling hybrid solutions. Customers will now be able to use Windows Azure Infrastructure Services to preserve existing on-premise investments, and as a result, will reap the benefits of greater speed, scale and economics - three key drivers for enterprise companies.

Hilf gives an example of one of these hybrid strategies. Automotive marketing and social media firm Digital Air Strike is using Windows Azure’s Infrastructure Services and Platform Services to create an instant feedback mechanism for all car purchases and service transactions for automotive giant General Motors. This enables GM to monitor the health of their customer relationships in near real time, providing deep and valuable business insights.

Another example is Telenor, a Norwegian telecommunications company that needed to upgrade to the latest SharePoint solution across 13 business units and 12 countries.  It spun up their SharePoint 2013 farms and reduced their set-up time from 3 months to two weeks, and saved 70 percent in costs on their test environment, according to a Microsoft blog post.

This example is used to highlight Microsoft’s commitment to avoiding vendor lock-in. Ultimately for production, Telenor is leveraging VM portability available between Windows Azure and Windows Server to move their final production deployment to their existing third-party hosting provider. So again, cloud is being used as a complement, not a threat to existing infrastructure in many cases, with the tech giants focusing on enabling hybrid plays rather than a “move everything to the cloud” sentiment that was once persistent throughout the industry.

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