Tuesday, July 07, 2009

Azure pricing: How low will Microsoft go?

Microsoft is planning to share details about its pricing and licensing plans for its Azure cloud environment at its Worldwide Partner Conference in mid-July. That’s what we know.

What we don’t know about its Azure pricing and licensing plans would fill a book. But there are a few hints and some educated speculation circulating regarding Microsoft’s expected directions here.

Azure is Microsoft’s cloud operating-system, programming environment and hosting platform which is currently in beta. Microsoft is expected to release the “final” version of Azure in November during its Professional Developers Conference. At its Worldwide Partner Conference, company officials are on tap to explain to its reseller partners and integrators “the Azure Service Platform Partner Model and Pricing” (as one show session on Tuesday July 14 is named).

Webcast replay: All About Azure

According to the WPC agenda, Microsoft is on tap to outline “the details of the Azure business model, pricing, SLA (service level agreement), and partner offers,” as well as the “roadmap to commercial launch” and how Microsoft plans to differentiate Azure from cloud/hosting platforms from its myriad competitors. (There also may be a business-specific “Business Edition” version of Azure in the wings, as .Net developer Chris Hayuk notes in a recent blog posting.)

Update: Microsoft also will unveil “the Cloud Computing Infrastructure Initiative’s Hosted Partner Network Program and outline further details on the Enterprise Dynamic Datacenter Toolkit (DDTK),” according to the partner conference site. The DDTK for Hosters already is shipping; a version of the DDTK for enterprises, slated to be available in the fourth quarter of 2009, is a key piece of Microsoft’s “private cloud” offering, and will help users deploy hosted server/service offerings.

It’s high time for Microsoft to get specific about what it’s planning to charge for Azure and how it plans to best Amazon, Google and others with cloud platforms already available to developers, said .Net and Web services expert Roger Jennings, who runs the Oakleaf Systems blog.

“Putting a price tag on Azure services at its Worldwide Partners Conference is crossing the Rubicon for Microsoft,” Jennings said. “Amazon Web Services has a three-year head start in outsourcing Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS) and is reported to have 60,000 customers, most of whom are large organizations.”

“As a latecomer, Microsoft must offer substantially lower pricing for application/service instances, table/blob data storage, and data ingress/egress than Amazon or Google,” Jennings said. “He said he thought Microsoft should offer “a 50% discount from current pricing as a starting point for a Service Level Agreement (SLA) with two nines (99%) availability, 30% for three nines (99.9%).”

Matt Rosoff, an analyst wtih Directions on Microsoft, agreed that Amazon is the one Microsoft needs to undercut to grab and maintain mind share.

“I don’t think Microsoft looks at Azure as a big revenue-generator in itself, but more of a way to keep developers engaged in the Microsoft platform, and to prove that Microsoft is serious about the cloud in order to sell more seats of Microsoft Online (which Microsoft eventually expects to replace some traditional server revenue). With that in mind, I imagine they’ll price it very competitively — probably the same price or slightly less than Amazon’s offerings.”

Microsoft isn’t ready to talk Azure licensing/pricing specifics yet. But there are some broad-brush hints on its Azure Web site about some of the factors that will figure into the company’s pricing equation.

In a Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) document about pricing on the Azure Platform Services site, Microsoft notes that it plans to price its Azure platform in a way that takes into account its reseller partners, and with pricing that is “attractive with the market” and which takes into account a “consumption-based model.”

Developers who want to host applications in Microsoft’s Azure cloud will see their consumption levels figured based on compute time, measured in machine hours, and taking into account bandwidth requirements (”transmissions to and from the Azure data center”). Bandwidth will be measured in GB, as will storage, according to the FAQ. Transactions will be “measured as application requests such as Gets and Puts.”

I’ll be attending the partner conference next week and will have more on the Azure details as Microsoft rolls them out. Meanwhile, if you’re interested in a high-level overview of what Azure is and where it seems to be going, you might want to check out a Webcast I did recently that was “All About Azure.”

Got any pricing/licensing details around Azure you’re curious about?

Myspace shuts down free storage

Image representing MySpace as depicted in Crun...

Online storage company Myspace.com has ceased its free storage service, prompting many of its customers to scramble to retrieve their digital files before they are deleted.

San Francisco-based Myspace says on its Web site that people can obtain their files until Friday at 5 p.m. PDT. Myspace previously let people store, organize, share and distribute digital files--including music, photos and documents--for free through a password-protected account.

"This will be the only period of time you will be able to retrieve your files," the company's Web site reads. "After this date, Myspace free consumer site will be closed. Myspace customers will not be able to access their accounts, and, to ensure your privacy, all stored files will be deleted."

The company could not be immediately reached for comment.

Myspace is the latest online storage company to stumble amid the economic downturn. In February, Driveway closed its storage service and laid off three-quarters of its staff.

A month earlier, FreeDrive shuttered its file-swapping service, which let people store and share files with strangers, citing Justice Department concerns that the service could be a haven for copyright pirates. The company still provides access to private, password-protected folders.

On its Web site, Myspace said its customers will be able to download their files or use its CD-burning service, which will mail customers a CD with their files. The site also recommended that people sign up for storage services with FreeDrive.

Jarvis Mak, a senior analyst at Nielsen/NetRatings, said that people have been using online storage sites as an "underground" way to distribute pirated files. As a result, that issue became the biggest hurdle for many online storage companies. In addition, portals offering online storage services also became big competitors for storage-only start-ups.

"What we see now, obviously, is the closing of Myspace and Driveway point to the fact that (online storage sites) are having a hard time surviving," Mak said. "They do need to move to some kind of niche...or move away from a consumer model to a B2B model so they can survive. As a pure consumer service, I think they would have a difficult time, as has already been witnessed."

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Modern threats to American liberty


Cash, currency and coins, is a store of value. In the US, “legal tender for all debts, public and private.” Carry too much of it though and you are marked for suspicion (per the Wall Street Journal]:

Steven Bierfeldt, treasurer for the Campaign for Liberty, a political organization launched from Ron Paul’s presidential run, was detained at the St. Louis airport because he was carrying $4,700 in a lock box. . . . TSA screeners quizzed him about the cash, . . . then summoned local police and threatened him with arrest because he responded to their questions with a question of his own: What were his rights and could TSA legally require him to answer?

How about former Senator Bob Dole who habitually carried a wad of $100 bills? When federal regulators spotted his large cash withdrawals his bank filed “suspicious activity reports” questioning whether he might have violated federal laws against money laundering.

Multi-millionaire New York Governor Elliot Spitzer’s large cash withdrawals led a shadowy anti-corruption unit to his use of a prostitute - and to his resignation. As if a multi-millionaire is a likely candidate for money-laundering or bribery - but he did anger a lot of bankers. Hmm-m.

As money launderers see automated cash-tracking programs follow ever smaller sums, they open more accounts and make even smaller cash transactions. Which brings the breath of suspicion closer to all of us.

Where does it stop?

Not legal tender
Oh, and you know those lines about “legal tender for all debts, public and private” on our currency? Scratch that.

The Denver-area E-470 toll road is going entirely cashless - requiring drivers to use transponders - or pay higher fees when a bill arrives in the mail. That follows the Dallas-area President George Bush Turnpike’s earlier abandonment of a cash lane.

Another thought: divorce lawyers and others are accessing electronic toll road records. It isn’t just the Internet where you have no privacy.

California has anonymous FasTrak accounts. Top it up with cash - oops! you’re toast, buddy! - and away you go.

The Storage Bits take
As we enjoy this 4th of July, where Tom Jefferson once lauded those “. . . for opposing with manly firmness. . . .” invasions on the right of the people, let us remember that many Americans would not sign a petition with the text of the Bill of Rights. Too radical.

Your laptop can be seized for no reason when entering the US and its contents freely searched for - well, anything. Just as carrying a large amount of cash is now suspicious, a 64 GB thumb drive could soon make you a suspect.

Social totalitarians want to control our bodies and our lives, invading doctor’s offices, churches, ATMs and toll booths. Cheap massive storage makes it possible. Only patriotic Americans - liberal and conservative - insisting on their rights stand in the way.

It would be nice if social totalitarians on the Supreme Court would take to heart the original intent of the 9th Amendment:

The enumeration in the Constitution, of certain rights, shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by corporations the people.

In the meantime, for Steven Bierfeldt, who resisted the TSA’s illegal questioning, and the ACLU and others who defended him, 3 cheers.

Courteous comments welcome, of course.

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