Microsoft launches Windows Azure (without virtual machines)

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Finally Microsoft launched Windows Azure, the Platform-as-a-Service (PaaS) cloud computing offering that competes with products like Google App Engine.

In Q3 2009 the company said that Azure will be more than just a PaaS cloud, hosting (Hyper-V) virtual machines pretty much like Amazon does with its Elastic Computing Cloud (EC2). Which makes it a hybrid IaaS + PaaS cloud. But Microsoft didn’t clarify if the IaaS offering would be launched at the beginning of 2010 with the PaaS one.

To find out explored a bit Azure.

The first thing that is worth to note is the pricing scheme:


As you can see, there’s an entry level package (Introductory Special) that’s available free of charge.


It comes with a small computing instance, a terminology that reminds the Amazon one to describe its virtual machines
A careful analysis of the Azure features included in each package confirms that Microsoft computing instances are compared to virtual servers. And like Amazon, the company offers three sizes to customers:


And like Amazon does, every customer is limited to maximum 20 small computing instances (or equivalent computing resources) by default. If you want more you need to ask for them.

After signing as new Microsoft customer and purchasing the free Introductory Special, we are required to wait for a confirmation that our account is ready to use the cloud. This took just 10 minutes in our case.
At this point we are able to access the Azure control panel to provision the services we need:

Azure_ServicesHere there’s nothing more than Storage Account and Hosted Services options. After selecting the the latter, we are invited to upload our application and configuration files:


Apparently, there’s no way to freely use the small computing instance that is included in the Introductory Special plan as a hosted virtual machine. 
Similarly, the Storage Account service above can’t be used to upload an existing virtual machine as Ray Ozzie suggested during his PDC 2009 keynote. Thus the IaaS offering is not yet enabled.