So throughout all of what Microsoft calls our “Q3 TechNet Event Series” one of the topics that I often speak about with customers about is Microsoft’s newest cloud offering named Windows Azure.  While the majority of the folks attending one of the Q3 Microsoft TechNet events are there to hear about either Windows 7 Deployment or using Hyper-V to build a test network, the first session talks about what Windows Azure is.  What has been surprising is:

  1. The number of people that haven’t heard of Windows Azure before
  2. How surprised many of the attendees are at Microsoft’s investment in “Cloud Services”
  3. How many questions come up after the session and in-between both the Hyper-V and Windows 7 Deployment sessions

Now post Steve Ballmer talking with University of Washington students last week about Microsoft being “All in” on cloud services and the subsequent press coverage, I’m guessing a few MORE people have heard of Windows Azure and some of Microsoft’s investments in this area, but just in case I thought it made sense to clarify how this really benefits customers on a number of levels.

So what is this Windows Azure thing and why should an IT Pro or SME business owner care?  Windows Azure is indeed Microsoft’s Cloud OS that can be used to host any number of applications at a fraction of the cost to run them yourself.  From a straight dollars and cents perspective, there is a simple, straightforward TCO model and subsequent ROI on Windows Azure that very easily proves to anyone comparing on-premise to hosted in the cloud that it’s cheaper to run it in the cloud.  Feel free to try out the model at www.microsoft.com/windowsazure/tco.  Long story short, by Microsoft running many hundreds of thousands of servers at scale in our datacenters around the globe and offering Windows Azure to host our customers applications, we can do it more cheaply and efficiently than most AND can offer internet-economy pricing to run these apps.  IT Pros and SME businesses often overlook the cost of the power and cooling costs to run a few servers and the related components

Now we all know it’s not just about dollars and cents, but also about hosting your business critical application with Microsoft makes it better for the IT Pro or Small or Medium business owner/IT person running the application(s).  If it’s harder to run it in the cloud, no one would sign up in the first place.  So that’s the hidden benefit here, besides being cheaper, we can offload the management of these servers completely and just give customers the application what in most cases is a “four 9’s” SLA.  Access to the business applications is what the business owner cares about the most, and if they’re able to do that with higher uptime, no upfront hardware cost and with access to capacity on demand, the downside seems to be nonexistent.

IT Pros will be happy to know that Windows Azure isn’t going to replace their job like you might initially think, but rather eliminate many of the more mundane tasks an IT Pro does such as worrying about A/V and Malware on the servers, ensuring backups ran, replacing faulty hardware, etc.  Microsoft does all these things for you, ensures that you get full access to your application and all you pay for is what you use, as opposed to the many thousands of dollars up front for hardware.  IT Pros still need to set up and configure the application in Windows Azure, as well as do the usual administration of the application just like as if it was running on-premise.  The time the business spends on the IT Pro is specific to the application which is specific to their business, as opposed to spending time on setting up industry-standard hardware on the business’ dime.

So let me give somewhat of a real-life example.  Any of you who have seen me speak at the TechNet events has probably heard me use the example of an accounting application during tax season.  Having access to a server infrastructure that can expand to meet the needs of the business for the 3 months of tax season and then contract back to a smaller footprint after April 15th is something that business owners and IT Pros can only dream about, but that is what is indeed delivered with Windows Azure.  In a matter of minutes, an IT Pro or SME business owner could expand the number of instances that the tax software was running to meet the demand and then in a matter of minutes on April 16th, contract the number of instances of the tax application back to an appropriate number for the rest of the year.  The cost to the accounting business does NOT include the thousands of dollars of the extra servers, but rather just the additional processing that was used for the period it was needed.  In this example, the additional cost would be quite small.  Go see for yourself how Windows Azure is priced: http://www.microsoft.com/windowsazure/pricing/.

The only other thought that should be taken into consideration is the security of your applications and data.  How does Microsoft handle that?  What about regulatory requirements?  Microsoft goes through all of the common audits on our datacenters (ISO, PCI, HIPPA, SOX, etc), and we make the results available to you, so if you’re running your application on our platform, you have access to the audit results if you need to produce them for someone.  Microsoft hosts applications for many household name enterprises today whose security teams have been satisfied with Microsoft’s ability to secure their company’s assets, so the security in place with the Windows Azure platform probably goes well beyond what a SME business could afford in the first place.  As Steve Ballmer mentioned, Microsoft is “All In” on cloud services, so our investment in the area of security is probably second to none.

So what are you waiting for, give Windows Azure a try! http://www.microsoft.com/windowsazure/getstarted/.  With all the hard work already being done for you and a lower cost to run your business applications, Windows Azure really is what the IT Pros and Small and Medium businesses have been waiting for!