Microsoft Enhances Windows Azure, Reduces Data Transfer Costs

The company is also making changes to Azure pricing, including reducing data transfer prices and setting a price cap for large SQL Azure databases.

Azure, launched in February 2010, is Microsoft's Platform-as-a-Service product for developing and deploying cloud applications. While the company has not disclosed information about Azure's sales or subscribers, the product is a critical element of Microsoft's cloud computing strategy.

The multiple updates to Azure are designed to improve the platform's ease of use, interoperability and "overall value," said Bob Kelly, corporate vice president, Windows Azure marketing, in a blog.

On the development side Microsoft has added Node.js language libraries to the Windows Azure software development kit (SDK). Node.js is a software system designed for highly scalable Internet applications. The libraries enable Node.js development for Windows Azure storage, including blobs, tables and queues, according to Microsoft. Also available is Windows Azure PowerShell for Node.js for command-line development and deployment of applications.

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The new Apache Hadoop-based distribution for Windows Azure will boost Azure's ability to handle "big data." The software, currently available only as a limited preview, lets organizations run Hadoop projects on Azure.

For SQL Azure Microsoft is tripling the maximum database size from 50 GB to 150 GB in the SQL Azure Q4 2011 service release. And the new SQL Azure Federation feature makes the database tier more elastic through repartition based on application workloads. Microsoft also has updated the SQL Azure management portal using Microsoft's "Metro-style" user interface.

Effective immediately, Microsoft is reducing the cost of data transfers out of Azure to $0.12 per GB in North America and Europe (down from $0.15) and to $0.19 per GB in Asia Pacific (down from $0.20).

Microsoft originally charged fees for moving data into Azure, as well as data transfers out of the system, but the company dropped those fees as of July 1 in what was seen as an effort to boost adoption of the cloud platform.

Microsoft also is introducing a price cap of $499.95 per SQL Azure database, a move the company said "lowers the effective cost per GB" for customers. The company said customers with 50-GB databases and larger can grow those systems without additional cost, and customers that use 150-GB databases will see the price per GB effectively drop by 67 percent.