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Microsoft put some meat on the bones of its cloud computing
initiative Tuesday, announcing a long-awaited pricing structure and a
commercial release date coming in November.

The Redmond, Wash., software company also sweetened the meal a bit
for partners, announcing at the Worldwide Partner Conference that
partners can start building on the Azure platform for free from now
until the official November launch date, when pricing then will be
applied. The platform can be accessed at www.windowsazure.com.

Why the four-month free pass? Bob Muglia, president of Microsoft’s
Server & Tools business, said the company wants to build momentum
behind the platform prior to taking it to general release.

“We are going free now because we really want to build the ecosystem
and get people going with development,” Muglia told partners during his
keynote address. “Now is really the time to start building Azure apps.”

Muglia stressed that developers who have built applications on .NET,
C# or any of the major Microsoft development tools can use those
existing skills to write applications for the Azure cloud platform.

The company announced three ways to access and pay for Azure:

  • Pay-as-you-go consumption
  • Subscription-based consumption
  • Integrated into volume licensing

The pay-as-you-go model will sport the following consumption-based pricing metrics for users:

Windows Azure

Computing: $0.12 per hour
Storage: $0.15 per gigabyte stored
Storage transaction: $0.10 per 10K
Bandwidth: $0.10 in/$0.15 out per gigabyte

SQL Azure

Web Edition Database, includes up to 1GB relational database for $9.99
Business Edition Database, includes up to 10GB relational database for $99.99
Bandwidth for both: $0.10 in/$0.15 out per gigabyte

.NET Services

Messages: $0.15 per 100K message operations, including service bus messages and access control tokens
Bandwidth: $0.10 in/$0.15 out

Service-level agreements

Compute Connectivity: 99.95 percent guarantee
Storage: 99.9 percent guarantee
Automated Service Management: automatically reinstantiates an application

The subscription-based consumption model is intended for Azure users
who want predictability and fixed pricing, Muglia said. Meanwhile,
Microsoft integrated the Azure licensing into its volume licensing
program so that customers on enterprise agreements can gain access to
the cloud platform as well.

Members of the Microsoft Partner Network (formerly Microsoft Partner
Program) will be given a 5 percent upfront promotional discount on
Azure Windows, SQL and .NET services. Microsoft bills the partner
directly, but partners can then set their own prices to their end
customers, Muglia explained.

Partners have been clamoring for concrete information on how pricing
for the cloud services would work so they can begin realigning their
own business models. As one partner put it last week in advance of WPC,
“Without a pricing model for Azure it is simply technically cool … and
that is just not good enough.”