Building out an infrastructure that supports your web service or application can be expensive, complicated and time consuming. Whether you need to forecast the highest possible demand, build out the network to support your peak times, getting the right servers in place at the right time or managing and maintaining the systems, these actions require time and money to do.

The Windows Azure platform is a flexible cloud computing platform that lets you focus on solving business problems and addressing customer needs instead of building that infrastructure to have your business running on. Furthermore with the platform, there is no need to invest upfront on expensive infrastructure all together. Pay only for what you use, scale up when you need capacity and pull it back when you don’t, all this power is provided by the Windows Azure Platform at your fingertips.

During PDC 2010 we announced much new functionality to become available at the end of this calendar year. Some of these new functionalities are available now, as of 30/11 

Reading about cloud computing is one thing, experimenting and trying it out is a completely different thing. As such Microsoft provides you different ways allowing you exploring these new functionalities while making cloud computing and Windows Azure in particular more accessible to you and your business. All this and much more can be done in three easy steps.

Setup a Free Account

You will need an account and subscription to access the Windows Azure Portal allowing you to deploy your applications. Microsoft offers two choices for having a free subscription:

  • Windows Azure Introductory Special: This is a new offer specially made for you. Limited of one per customer and includes a base amount of the Windows Azure platform services with no monthly commitment and free of charge.
  1.  
    1. Navigate to the Microsoft Online Services Customer Portal.
    2. Select the country you live in and press continue.
    3. Right click on the sign in link to sign in the portal.
    4. Click on the View Service Details link under the Windows Azure Platform section.
    5. Locate the Windows Azure Platform Introductory Special offer and click on buy.
    6. Provide a name for the subscription.
    7. Check the Rate Plan check box below and click next
    8. Enter the Billing information and click next
    9. Check the Agreement box and click purchase.
  1.  
    1. Sign in to the Microsoft Online Services Customer Portal.
    2. Click on the Subscriptions tab and find the subscription called “Windows Azure Platform MSDN Premium”.
    3. Under the Actions section, make sure one of the options is “Opt out of auto renew”.  This ensures your benefits will extend automatically.  If you see “Opt in to auto renew” instead, select it and click Go to ensure your benefits continue for another 8 months.
    4. After your first 8 months of benefits have elapsed (you can check your start date by hovering over the “More…” link under “Windows Azure Platform MSDN Premium” on this same page), you will need to come back to this page and choose “Opt out of auto renew” so that your account will close at the end of the 16-month introductory benefit period.  If you keep this account active after 16 months, all usage will be charged at the normal “consumption” rates.

Note: You can have both offers active at the same time providing even more free access to the Windows Azure Platform and related new functionalities.

Download the Required Tools

Following tools are required to access the news features on the Windows Azure Platform:

Use and Experience the New Features

As part of the release of the new features, new detailed walkthroughs are being made available in learning how to use these new features:

  • Introduction to Windows Azure: In this walkthrough, you explore the basic elements of a Windows Azure service by creating a simple application that demonstrates many features of the Windows Azure platform, including web and worker roles, blob storage, table storage, and queues.
  • Deploying Applications in Windows Azure: In this walkthrough, you learn how to deploy your first application in Windows Azure by showing the steps required for provisioning the required components in the Windows Azure Developer Portal, uploading the service package, and configuring the service.
  • Virtual Machine Role: Windows Azure Virtual Machine Roles allow you to run a customized instance of Windows Server 2008 R2 in Windows Azure, making it easier to move applications to the cloud. In this walkthrough, you explore Virtual Machine roles and you learn how to create custom OS images that you deploy to Windows Azure.