Microsoft's Windows Azure Vision Taking Shape

Last week, CEO Steve Ballmer said Microsoft would be ready to go to market with Azure in for its Professional Developer Conference in November. But right now, Microsoft wants developers to focus on using the Azure platform and not on the economic model behind it, according to Steven Martin, Microsoft's senior director of developer platform product management.

In a Tuesday interview, Martin reiterated the end-of-year launch time frame for Azure and said Microsoft will offer details on Azure pricing later this year. "We want customers to develop applications that are sound, without thinking about the economic constraints," Martin said.

That said, Azure pricing will be "very competitive" with existing cloud-based application development offerings and will employ a consumption-based business model, Martin said. "Customers have been very clear that they only want to pay for functionality they're using, and do so as granularly as possible," he said.

By holding off on revealing Azure pricing, Microsoft may be looking to avoid a repeat of the channel discord that followed last year's announcement at WPC of pricing and partner commissions for its Business Productivity Online Services Suite, which includes hosted versions of Exchange, SharePoint, Office Communications Server and LiveMeeting.

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Microsoft has been working to identify workloads where Azure makes sense for specific industries. For example, insurance companies could use Azure to update the actuarial tables that drive their policy calculations, Martin said.

Customer-facing applications are another example. "Companies like eBay and Amazon own both their applications and their infrastructures. With the cloud, you can separate the apps from the infrastructure, and just be in business of providing functionality," Martin said.

Azure also makes sense in hosting environments where the level of complexity is similar to that of on-premise environments, Martin said. "The goal with the cloud is to have an OS that's truly virtual, and which can hide all the complexity of the hardware and add capacity as needed," he said.

At MIX09 in Las Vegas later this month, Microsoft is scheduled to provide an update on the relational database capabilities of SQL Data Services, part of the Azure platform. Martin declined to offer details, saying only that "for a certain class of apps, relational database functionality makes a lot of sense."