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Windows Azure review

Moving to Azure requires a whole new mindset - it's best to keep an eye on how the meter's running.

Windows Azure is big. Not in the shallow, brand-name sense, but big like the Tardis. When you start, you see Microsoft's nice pictures of racks of glowing  LEDs, calm, controlled sysadmins and happy users, and have almost no inkling at all of the immense landscape of computing that lurks behind pretty much every link on the starting page.

To take one example, I followed a single incidental-looking link on in the aftermath of Microsoft withdrawing Technet software subscriptions.

To soften the blow somewhat, it has dialled up a special deal for MSDN subscribers (if you are not a developer or small business support person; you may not know MSDN is the more expensive big brother to Technet). If you stump up for MSDN, you get $150 of Azure credit every month, and when you start to consume that credit, you get more bang per buck than a regular, retail Azure customer gets.

That's just one link, but the immense variety of knock-on thoughts it presents are typical, I would say, of the Azure experience.

What does all this mean for you as a user just starting out? My advice is, take your time. Yes, Azure uses web platforms and service delivery, but it's best not to think of it in a quick-in, quick-out website frame of mind. Adopt an approach of slow page reading, think carefully through what you see and what you are offered, and make sure you figure out the consequences of your decisions. This isn't a website; nor is it a hosting provider; nor is it a software development platform; nor a toolbox; nor a Software-Defined Networking playpen; nor a trial package evaluation sandbox: it's all of those things, with an entire economy thrown over the whole lot.

An analogous charging model is readily found in Second Life, the now rather pass Massively Multiplayer Online construction kit-cum-game. If you are the kind of Azure starter I suspect you are: in a classic, Windows-loyal business with a committed but cautious Financial Director and CIO asking you to take a look and report back what you've found, then it's a lot easier to illustrate the practical everyday consequences of variable charging by making reference to a bit of harmless Questing across Landscapes with Gadgets you buy and sell.

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