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Comparing Microsoft Azure's pricing policies

Microsoft's Azure pricing plans weren't readily available to the public at first. When that information was released, it came up short against Google App Engine in several ways.

Editor's note: Please see our more recent story on Microsoft Azure pricing and how it compares to platform as a service offerings from Google and Amazon. 

This is the third in a four-part series from contributor Patrick Meader on working with Microsoft Azure.

An important aspect of Azure is its pricing and terms of service. Microsoft's secrecy on this topic had kept many organizations from pursuing Azure more aggressively, but the company finally released the information in mid-July. Pricing factors include compute time, which is measured in machine hours; bandwidth requirements (transmissions to and from the Azure data center), measured in GB; storage, measured in GB; and transactions measured as application requests such as Gets and Puts.

The existence of a pricing model should go a long way toward satisfying many people's concerns, even though Microsoft had been saying all along that its pricing would be competitive with that of its competitors. And while the final figures are "competitive," the pricing announced for Azure trails Google App Engine (GAE) in several ways.

First, the post-beta pricing announced shows Azure to be a bit more expensive. For a detailed analysis of their competing pricing structures, see Roger Jennings' blog post, "A Comparison of Azure and Google App Engine Pricing."

Secondly, and perhaps most importantly, GAE offers a certain level of free transactions. According to Google, they are enough to "serve a reasonably efficient application for around five million page views per month." The significance of this difference goes much deeper than the ability to use Google to run a certain size Web site for free.

Says Roger Jennings: "If Microsoft doesn't change this policy, it will likely prove to be a significant barrier to the adoption of the Azure platform. Historically, Microsoft has made it possible to test its new or significant technologies for free or, at a minimum, for less cost than its competitors. Being able to test out the GAE platform for free is a compelling advantage of GAE over Azure."

More information on GAE's pricing policy is available, along with pricing for Amazon EC2. Note that Amazon charges a premium for Amazon EC2 users on Windows instead of Linux/UNIX. Microsoft's option is cheaper than EC2 for services that rely on Windows, but EC2's non-Window-based platforms are cheaper than Microsoft's Azure offerings. Prices also vary based on whether users are located in the US or Europe.

Note that the terms of any PaaS- or IaaS-style cloud computing vendor will be subject to change over time, as is the case with any Software as a Service (SaaS) arrangement. The pricing FAQ for GAE, for example, notes that Google can the change the pricing terms of its service with 60 days notice, and there will most likely be similar terms for any cloud-based vendor.

What is likely to be different about using a cloud-style approach is the scope of commitment to a particular service-based vendor: The trust accorded to a specific vendor will probably play a role in choosing to implement a cloud-style application. It remains to be seen how easy it will be to pull any PaaS or IaaS-based application and port it to a rival service, but users shouldn't count on that transition being easy.

Part 1: An introduction to developing for Microsoft Azure
Part 2: Azure tools for cloud-based development
Part 3: Comparing Microsoft Azure's pricing policies
Part 4: The risks and rewards behind developing in Azure

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Patrick Meader has been covering the Windows development as an editor, analyst and author for more than 13 years.

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