Windows Azure review

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

It's not too daft to push this metaphor over to Azure, because it's safe to say that nothing you do, as a single person user or a fearless spearhead of corporate adoption, happens on Azure without you being charged for it. Before you click anywhere even on the free trial you have to let this idea soak in for a while. Azure charges for every type of load arising from a compute activity, so if you were to create yourself a little Windows Server VM, then upload some code and data to it, run the latter through the former, and then download the results, then each of those steps would eat away at your Azure credits. And, as the MSDN discount offer is at pains to point out (because MSDN VMs are excused from this problem), there is even a smaller charge for leaving your VM online without actually using it for anything.

This isn't aimed at the classic kids-in-paddling-pool, frog-in-blender home movie buff, nor is it a serious prospect for a classic small business considering cloud infrastructure over local servers.

Looking at the tables of charges on my account, I seem to have got away with very little cost so far  (and I am not a careful husband of such resources).

My calculator suggests the very smallest VM in the IaaS part of Azure will cost on the order of 38 a month to leave running 24/7, though there will of course be extra charges above that if you move data to or from it, or reserve some storage for it to keep things on. Bigger VM instances can increase that number by a factor of 10, assuming you can guarantee to fill such a multicore beast with both load and data.  Again, the basic takeaway lesson for beginners is to get used to clicking on the "account" link in the Azure homepage.

There are some chokes and controls, of course - although these have a distinctly "first try" flavour to most of them. There is the near-inevitable prospect of "I went on holiday and Microsoft emptied my credit card" stories emerging. These will, by any reasonable analysis, be all about people leaving themselves foolishly open to dull and pre-cloud risks like virus infection or runaway processes.  While Azure itself is securely defended against infectious agents, an IaaS VM is very easily configured as an intimate part of your internal network, and can very easily be targeted from there for Trojanising, or a drive-by, or any of the other modern risks to clean computing.

Hopefully, some of the controls that Microsoft make clear to MSDN users (for example, run an MSDN Subscription VM for more than 120 hours and it reserves the right to decide it's used "in production" and kill it off) will percolate through, this will enable users to set hard and fast limits without using the blunt instrument of credit card payment limits as their only backstop. The size of the free trial, inside or outside MSDN, is generous enough to allow an effective report back on the strengths and weaknesses of the system.

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