Getting Started with Windows Azure

This is the second in a series of posts I’m doing on Windows Azure – which is Microsoft’s Cloud Computing Platform.

In today’s post I’m going to cover how to sign-up and get started with Windows Azure using a no-obligation 3 month free trial offer.  This free trial costs nothing and doesn’t obligate you to buy anything at the end of it.  It provides an easy way to try out and get started with Windows Azure.

Windows Azure Website

The http://www.windowsazure.com web-site provides everything you need to get started with Windows Azure – including overview content, developer tutorials and documentation, account management, and more:

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On the www.windowsazure.com home page, as well as in the top-right hand corner of every page of the site, is a “free trial” link.  Clicking it will take you to a sign-up page that enables you to quickly register a new account and get started with Windows Azure:

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The free trial provides everything you need to get started with Windows Azure.

Three Month Free Trial Offer

We recently refreshed our Windows Azure free trial offer to make sign-up easier, ensure it is always risk/obligation free, and enable more services with it.  You can click the “Sign up now” button above to register and have an active Windows Azure subscription ready to use in under 2 minutes.

What the Free Trial Provides

The free trial offer allows you to build and run applications on Windows Azure at no cost (and with no obligation to buy or pay anything at the end of the three month free trial).  It includes a number of compute, database and storage services that you can use to build your applications.  Some of the resources include:

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I’ll cover more about what “750 small compute hours per month” means in a future post – but essentially it means that you have enough hours to continually run an application you build in a virtual server – dedicated and isolated just to you – on Windows Azure each month (there are 744 hours in a 31 day month: 24 hours x 31 days = 744). 

The trial also includes a 1GB SQL Azure Database that you can store data within.  SQL Azure Databases run on dedicated servers we manage and cluster (for high availability and scale-out).  This means you don’t need to worry about installing, managing, or running your own database servers (which makes life easier).  The trial also includes 20GB of high availability storage that you can use to store blobs, queues and non-relational tables. 

What is Required to Sign-up for a Trial

When you click the “Sign up Now” button on the free-trial page you’ll walk-through a sign-up wizard that will ask you to provide three things:

  • The Windows LiveID account you want to use to use to sign-in and manage your account
  • A mobile phone number where we can send (via SMS) a verification code for you to enter
  • A credit card

We use the last two items for proof of identity.  The credit card is not billed and during the free trial you’ll have a spending limit set to $0. 

Free and No Risk

Spending limits are a new feature we added to Windows Azure last month, and ensure that you never have to worry about accidentally going over the resources included in a free offer and being charged.  If you end up building an application that exhausts the monthly amounts included in the free trial before the month ends, and you have a spending limit set to $0, then we will by default disable the application for the remainder of the month (leaving your data in read-only mode) until the next month starts.  This ensures you are never billed anything during the free trial.

You can optionally turn off the spending limit feature if you want to go beyond what the free trial provides (and pay for the incremental resources on top of what is provided in the trial) – but by default the spending limit is on (and set to $0) when you sign-up for a free trial to ensure that you never inadvertently get charged anything.  This provides a no-risk way to evaluate Windows Azure.  You can learn more about the spending limit feature here.

Tracking Usage

You can easily track what resources you’ve used on Windows Azure by clicking the “Account” tab of the www.windowsazure.com web-site.  This is another new feature we added to Windows Azure last month, and it allows customers (both free trial and paid) to easily see what resources they’ve used and how much it is costing them.  You can download the usage data as either a CSV data file (which you can open in Excel or other tools), or visualize the usage data within the browser:

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You can also use the account tab to easily change payment methods (both to setup a new credit card or to switch to invoice-based billing), create new subscriptions, as well as optionally cancel subscriptions. 

What if you don’t want to use Windows Azure at the end of the trial?

There is no obligation to use Windows Azure (nor buy anything) at the end of the three month free trial. So if at the end of it you aren’t ready to buy anything (or just want to hold off a few more months) there is no obligation to pay anything.  At any point during the free trial you can also click the “account” tab of the www.windowsazure.com website and explicitly cancel your subscription.

Summary

The above post covers how to quickly sign-up for a subscription with Windows Azure.  Its easy to do – and takes less than 2 minutes to complete.  Once you are signed up you can build and deploy high-scale cloud applications.  In future posts we’ll look at the steps to do this, and some of the cool features and options that Windows Azure enables for you.

Hope this helps,

Scott

P.S. In addition to blogging, I use Twitter to-do quick posts and share links. My Twitter handle is: @scottgu

Published Thursday, January 19, 2012 6:24 PM by ScottGu
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Comments

# re: Getting Started with Windows Azure

Thursday, January 19, 2012 11:01 PM by dc

Thanks for the article.  I like the improvements to the sign up process.  I'm looking forward to future articles.  I've considered Azure before, but it doesn't seem to be targeted toward small web sites or small developers.  Coming from a small developer viewpoint Azure seems to be much more expensive than other hosts and it's not as straight-forward when you want to publish your site using Azure versus uploading files and databases on a conventional host.

# re: Getting Started with Windows Azure

Thursday, January 19, 2012 11:27 PM by David Porter

I don't have a mobile phone. Can you offer me an alternative way to sign up?

# re: Getting Started with Windows Azure

Thursday, January 19, 2012 11:29 PM by Kazi Manzur Rashid

Any plan that it would be available world wide, currently it does not accept credit card if you are not from the countries of that drop down, so eventually we have to move to AWS.

# re: Getting Started with Windows Azure

Friday, January 20, 2012 12:13 AM by ScottGu

@Harish,

>>>>>>> Thanks very much for the Azure series, definitely looking forward to it. Just one quick question, does the spending limit feature eliminate concerns as posted by Lynn Langit

We've done three things in the last month that help avoid situations like that:

1) Introduced the spending limit feature so that people can't accidentally get billed from a free trial.  Previously we saw that some customers would use more than the free trial and be surprised by a bill.  The new changes/features ensures this never happens anymore.

2) Added the account tab and the ability to see your bill in real-time.  That enables you to understand what resources you are using and what they are costing you.  In the past we saw some customers (who had exited the free trial) forget that they had something running that was costing them money.  The new account tab allows users to see exactly what they are using and how much it is costing.

3) Adding self-service account management so that you can change credit cards, delete subscriptions, and easily sign up for new ones.  That takes much of the hassle of having to call a phone number to manage things.

We think the above three things should help ensure a smooth experience going forward.

Hope this helps,

Scott

# re: Getting Started with Windows Azure

Friday, January 20, 2012 12:15 AM by ScottGu

@David,

>>>>> I don't have a mobile phone. Can you offer me an alternative way to sign up?

On the verification screen during sign-up you can select to have a SMS verification code sent to you, or alternatively there is also a number on the screen that you can call to verify (and you don't need a mobile phone to call it).  That will enable you to sign-up without having a mobile phone.

Hope this helps,

Scott

# re: Getting Started with Windows Azure

Friday, January 20, 2012 12:48 AM by PapaD

Sign up requirements too much.  Don't have, don't want, never will have a LiveId.  Should not have to give a CC# for a free trial.  Do not want you to have my cell phone number.

You guys need to make it EASY to sign up.

# re: Getting Started with Windows Azure

Friday, January 20, 2012 12:50 AM by Essam

So, if I'm not in one of the listed countries I can't try Azure?

# re: Getting Started with Windows Azure

Friday, January 20, 2012 3:52 AM by ScottGu

@Kazi, @Essam

>>>>>> Any plan that it would be available world wide, currently it does not accept credit card if you are not from the countries of that drop down, so eventually we have to move to AWS.

We are rolling Windows Azure out to more worldwide countries later this year.  I believe you can change the drop-down in the sign-up wizard to reflect any country.  If you have an international credit card you can then use that to sign-up.  Send me email (scottgu@microsoft.com) if you have problems and I can connect you with someone to help.

Thanks,

Scott

# re: Getting Started with Windows Azure

Friday, January 20, 2012 3:53 AM by soe moe

I just want to know what is the target audience? Small team (starting from one developer) or just for Company who can span a few thousands a month?

The only thing stopping me to try azure is the price. I want heroku or appharbor like pricing model such as free to host small application and 10MB of database.

I really hope you can change it for us, poor developers. :)

# re: Getting Started with Windows Azure

Friday, January 20, 2012 4:52 AM by Chris

Hi Scott, are there any plans to extend the "Spending Limit" feature to non trial/MSDN accounts?

It appears to be currently '£0' or 'disabled' so I guess my question is when will it be possible to set it to '£200' and so set an upper bound on potential costs?

# re: Getting Started with Windows Azure

Friday, January 20, 2012 4:56 AM by Paul Hiles

As dc said, more needs to be done to allow developers to host smaller sites on Azure without incurring significant costs. For simple, low traffic sites, Azure does not compare favourably with the cost of shared hosting or the excellent AppHarbor platform. This is a real shame - Azure is a great platform that should not be restricted to those with deeper pockets.

# re: Getting Started with Windows Azure

Friday, January 20, 2012 5:23 AM by Sergiu

Hi Scott,

Thanks for the info. One small remark about the free account. I've started using Windows Azure trial account, with a pretty simple sample project. After ~9 days, I got an email that stated that my account is suspended because I've reached spending limits. I was really surprised because I was the only person making some sample tests on the account. Well, it came out that I've reached my 'Storage Transactions' limit (10 000s) without even using the storage API (I haven't implemented any Blog, Table, Queue, services in my application). This was really strange, as my subscription summary told me that I was using 1000 transactions per day.

After googling a while for the problem, I figured out that Windows Azure project in the Visual Studio, by default has 'Enable Diagnostics' checkbox checked, and surprise, this feature uses heavily 'Storage Transactions'.

Even though, technically its my fault that I didn't disable Diagnostics, I believe it should have a default state 'uncheked', as the vast majority of newcomers will encounter this problem (I don't even known how Diagnostics can be used in my app).

Moreover, I haven't seen in the official SDK any statement that points out that Diagnostics can consume your 'Storage Transactions'.

Regards

# re: Getting Started with Windows Azure

Friday, January 20, 2012 5:28 AM by Lex Mitchell

I've signed up to Windows Azure via an MSDN premium subscription. So this is interesting if not directly applicable. I would love to have the spending limit functionality applied to my MSDN account so that I can develop with the peace of mind that I won't be incurring charges unintentionally.

I would hope that applying a spending limit might remove the need for a credit card for MSDN based subscriptions (and even the free trial users) with a card only being required when a user wanted to remove those limits.

I want to get our team onto Azure via their MSDN subs and while creating a Live ID is fairly low impact, I can't really ask them to use their personal credit card (which is what I did). The alternative of using a company card is doubtless going to be a headache to approve, especially for a large team of people.

It'd be good to have a simpler experience, if not for free at least for customers who are actually already spending money with you (i.e. MSDN subs/partners).

Thanks,

Lex

# re: Getting Started with Windows Azure

Friday, January 20, 2012 9:52 AM by Rob

Hi Scott,

I have a question regarding credit cards and billing addresses for a windows live account. I have previously tried to sign up for a developer account for the Windows Phone, but since I've moved my the country of the billing address on my Live account doesn't match my current country. This results in me being unable to register a credit card and thus I am also unable to create the account at create.msdn.com (I have no intention to create a new account since I have lots of services connected to my current account). Has this scenario been fixed or will I have the same problem trying to create an account for Azure? Also, will this scenario be fixed for Windows Phone development anytime soon (or has it already been fixed)?

/Rob

# re: Getting Started with Windows Azure

Friday, January 20, 2012 10:06 AM by Mike

Can you just ditch the free trial altogether, and make the lowest level of everything just be free?  Then, if we exceed the lowest level, we have to go higher and start paying.

# re: Getting Started with Windows Azure

Friday, January 20, 2012 10:34 AM by ryanw51

Scott,

Is Azure going to be a viable option for hosting small applications?  I'm currently using AppHarbor for cloud-based applications which seems to be very friendly to small apps with limited traffic.  Being a .net developer, I would love to have Azure in my tool belt as well, but it looks like the primary target audience of this platform is large apps with big databases and lots of traffic.

This is fine, there is certainly a lot of money in that.  However, it doesn't really encourage young developers such as myself to give it a try.

# re: Getting Started with Windows Azure

Friday, January 20, 2012 12:22 PM by Sigurdur G.

After all this time reading and hearing about Azure, I still can't sign up :P Iceland is still not in the list, not even for a trial account :(

# re: Getting Started with Windows Azure

Friday, January 20, 2012 12:56 PM by David

This is a definite improvement from my last experience with Azure, trials and billing, which was just a complete nightmare (had to threaten legal action to get my bill removed, but that is another story).

One improvement I can think of is to simply remove the time limit: I would really like to start using Azure, but given other project work, my activity will be starting and stopping quite a bit.

Why not just have the existing (reasonable) usage limits for the trial, and when you use them up the trial is over?

David

# re: Getting Started with Windows Azure

Friday, January 20, 2012 7:54 PM by Beyers Cronje

Hi Scott, I've been trying to register for the free trial, but it hangs during step one. It just shows "Loading offers..." with an animated ajax gif and the country dropdown at the bottom. Tried in both IE9 and Chrome.

Also, as others have noted above, I do not see my country in the dropdown box listed, does this mean I will not be able to register until Azure is available in South Africa? There is no "Other" country option.

# re: Getting Started with Windows Azure

Saturday, January 21, 2012 2:19 AM by Paul

Scott,

Awesome video. Learned more about Azure in that hour and a half than...

You mentioned that Sql Azure was getting a walk thru that day - is the video available?

Paul.

# re: Getting Started with Windows Azure

Saturday, January 21, 2012 12:41 PM by Winner

This is a great improvement.  Thanks Scott.

# re: Getting Started with Windows Azure

Monday, January 23, 2012 9:23 AM by Brett Nieland

Scott,

Finally!  A no obligation/no change of being billed $43/nanosecond because you don't know what you are doing.  Great post.  MS Needs to promote the heck out of this with a big Ad.

NEW Azure Trial: You can never be billed unless you sign up for a full account

We know some of you have been weary of trying azure, because you don't want to reck up charges before you fully understand the system and how billing works..."

- Brett

# re: Getting Started with Windows Azure

Monday, January 23, 2012 12:51 PM by Mario

Hello Scott,

There’s has been a definite improvement with the Azure experience, and the new Azure trial is great.

Also it gives us a lot more confidence, now that you are behind it!

If only you could have a price model more like Heroku, or AWS (free usage tier micro instance, using Windows Server 2008 R2)

I’m not sure if there’s technical limits or maybe more political, but that would please the other 80%(in my opinion) of .net developers .

# re: Getting Started with Windows Azure

Monday, January 23, 2012 2:35 PM by Bilal Aslam

@David Porter: you can call support to complete signup. There should be a link on the page which will give you the number to call. We're working on additional ways to make this simpler.

# re: Getting Started with Windows Azure

Tuesday, January 24, 2012 9:22 PM by rickj1

If you get the free trial beware of the default setting to use Diagnostic it's all over the fourms there are about ten thousands storage transactions a day which eats up the free trial in 3 - 10 days you have to release your spending to continue the use of your free trial once you release your spending limit you can't reverse it this is an expected result it has to do with the latest SDK pepole on the fourms are not happy calling it a scam and of course the azure team is no addressing this issue no one from Microsoft is again I like the idea of Azure it's the Azure team I'm disgusted with I'd fire half of them if I was in charge

# re: Getting Started with Windows Azure

Tuesday, January 24, 2012 9:54 PM by rickj1

This is the worst horor story I seen with the free trial

social.msdn.microsoft.com/.../cc1f3025-5bbe-4654-b4fe-b242dce3b05b you can read more of them at

social.msdn.microsoft.com/.../threads

# re: Getting Started with Windows Azure

Wednesday, January 25, 2012 9:47 AM by John West

I'm trying to use the pricing calculator, and the 6 month plan price doesn't make sense.  I set it to 1 small instance vm with 2gb relational database.  The amount shows $109.98/mo.  I click the 6-month plan radio button, and the amount changes to $151.98/mo.  The price shouldn't go up.

# re: Getting Started with Windows Azure

Wednesday, January 25, 2012 11:26 AM by Andy

Hi Scott,

Are there any plans to change the firewall rules for SQL Azure? Currently I have to add the entire IP address range for my ISP as I am assigned dynamic IP addresses, which somewhat dilutes the security provided by the firewall.

Can MAC and/or DNS rules be incorporated in the future please? This would allow me to use a service such as DynDNS.

- Andy

# re: Getting Started with Windows Azure

Wednesday, January 25, 2012 10:20 PM by kaczmar2

Is there a performance SLA for SQL Azure?  I see that there's an availability (uptime) SLA of 99.95%, but I don't see any performance SLA.

It looks like SQL Azure is multi-tenent, so I wonder how we can get (and measure) performacne in a predicatable way?

# re: Getting Started with Windows Azure

Tuesday, January 31, 2012 1:38 PM by DimitriR

Hello Scott,

Do you plan to add Georgia to the countries list?

I am from Georgia and I cannot even try the Azure.

# re: Getting Started with Windows Azure

Wednesday, February 1, 2012 5:00 AM by wmspctek

wow, its looking so pretty