I’m a fan of Windows Azure and have enjoyed using it during its CTP phase. Once the CTP was open for registration like many I jumped at the chance to play with this new paradigm in Software Development. During this CTP phase I have written some small private web applications that really do nothing more than experiment with the Azure platform. These have provided me with valuable experience and an insight into building a ‘real’ world application on ‘Azure’. I have also used this knowledge to demonstrate Azure to my colleagues and to promote the platform within my enterprise. All this has been possible due to the fact that the CTP version is completely free to use, however this period of experimentation will soon sadly come to an end.
As Windows Azure moves from a free to use CTP to a commercial product it is right that users have to pay for the privilege of using the platform but it seems that many developers are going to have a hard choice to make in the new year. Do you forget about developing on Azure or do you fork out $86/£55 a month for the privilege of experimentation. For those with an MSDN Premium Subscription they’ll have some more time to enjoy it free, but in 8 months the same decision will be required.
Windows Azure pricing details can be found here but if we assume that the transaction and storage costs are minimal for a developers experimental site and just take the basic cost of running one instance per hour it is $0.12 (sounds cheap) but if we consider that there’s 24 hours in a day, 7 days a week etc the cost for a month is around $86 (£53). That’s not a small amount for the average developer to find. Whilst I am pleased by the free hours provided for MSDN subscribers this is a limited offer and it’s really just delaying the problem for those developers. That is unless Microsoft can come up with a basic cheaper proposition similar to the shared web hosting model. If a developer wants to experiment with web technologies for example they can host a web site (for public or private use) with a 3rd party web-hosting company. These hosting companies provide a selection of options based on your requirements. Whilst premium dedicated server hosting is available developers can get their fix from the cheap and cheerful shared server hosting which will provide most of the features on a smaller scale for around $10 (£6) per month. I realise that there is more to Azure than hosting a web site but the point is that you can only really experience a product when you are frequently interacting with it to build something real, and therefore it has to be accessible.
Now I’m not saying Azure is uncompetitive compared to it’s rivals (it actually competes favourably) or that you don’t get your money’s worth. For a new business starting up with some expected revenue then Azure provides huge advantages and the ability to scale up and down is ideal. It’s getting the developer community interested and informed that is the problem. Microsoft needs developers to buy-in to this seismic shift in computing and by making the barrier to entry so high it is making it difficult to spread the love for this excellent product. I believe that it is in Microsoft’s interest to provide some way to get grass routes developers to buy into this product and to gain exposure to it.
I hope that in the new year we will see a new low cost (even advertisement funded) offering for Azure aimed at getting developers tuned in and coding on this great platform without making a large financial commitment. I’m not alone in hoping for this, check out the requested feature list for Azure (the most popular by far at the time of writing is just this, a low cost option).