Azure’s Free Ride almost over, Get your credit cards ready

Consider this a public service announcement for those of you that may not be receiving (or paying attention to) the details about the upcoming changes to Microsoft’s Azure pricing. Up to now, Microsoft’s Azure cloud hosting has been a “CTP” preview and as such it has also been free. Come PDC and November 17th, though, your continued usage of Azure as a free playground for cloud development will nearing its end.

Here’s what will happen:

  1. At PDC, Microsoft will introduce a number of new features to Azure and more-or-less start the transition of Azure from a CTP to a paid service
  2. Azure will remain a CTP until the end of the year (December 31st) and you can continue to experiment and use it freely during that time. (I think MSFT will allow new CTP sign-ups during that period, but I’m not 100% certain.)
  3. In January, you have to make a commitment to keep using Azure. You’ll be able to sign-up for the service, and as a way to help you make the transition from free to paid, your first month of usage will be free.
  4. Finally, on February 1st, your credit card will start paying for your Azure time.

So, at this point, you’ve got about 3 more months to play with Azure for free. After that, if you use a bare minimum Azure setup with SQL Azure hosting, you can expect to pay about $100 per month (as I outlined in a previous blog post).

Microsoft’s January “grace period” is also a nice gesture. While a basic Azure setup will only cost you $100/month, costs can be much higher if you’re using many nodes. The free January “bill” will be a good reality check for how much your testing setup will cost in the real world.

Finally, don’t forget that Microsoft also recently announced that some versions of Visual Studio 2010 will be shipping with “free” Azure hosting. That means you may still have an option for experimenting with Azure without incurring extra charges if you’re using VS 2010 Pro, Premium or Ultimate with MSDN. Specifically:

  • Ultimate gets you 250 hours/month of Azure cloud computing
  • Premium gets you 100 hours/month
  • Pro gets you 50 hours/month

While cool, don’t forget that the average month has 720 hours. So if you upload a project to Azure and expect it to be there day-in and day-out, you’re still stuck paying for about 500 hours of computing time (about $60/month at $.12/hr). It’s also unclear if the MSDN packages with Visual Studio will include any provisions for Azure bandwidth and SQL usage, and if they don’t that’ll be another $5 to $15 per month.

Now that you’ve had a year to play with and test Azure, are you ready to pay for it? Is it worth money or will you be sticking with other tried and true hosting providers?

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