That Microsoft, as one of the world’s leading IT companies eventually have to fight with an „online store“ and a „search engine“ for market share, probably, no one ever dared to dream in Redmond. But that is the reality. Amazon and its Amazon Web Services (AWS) are the engine of innovation in the cloud computing market. And even Google is catching up steadily. Google has specifically in the platform-as-a-service (PaaS) market with the App Engine and the software-as-a-service (SaaS) market with Google Apps already well positioned products. Amazon, however, is in the area of infrastructure-as-a-service (IaaS) the absolute market leader. Here also Microsoft attacks now. After Windows Azure was positioned as a pure PaaS on market at the beginning, more and more IaaS components were added successively. With the new release, Microsoft has now officially rolled out the Windows Azure infrastructure services. For many this step comes too late, as a large market share in this area already have been spent to AWS. However, where it initially looks disadvantageous also some benefits, that are overlooked by most, are hidden.
Windows Azure Infrastructure Services at a glance
Basically, the Azure infrastructure services are nothing new. In a public release preview this have already been presented in June 2012. According to Microsoft, „… more than 1.4 million virtual machines have been created and used by hundreds of millions of processor hours.“ In addition, today already more than 50 percent of Fortune 500 companies use Windows Azure and thereby manage a total of more than four trillion data and information on Windows Azure. The capacity for compute and storage solutions double in about every six to nine months. According to Microsoft, every day nearly 1,000 new customers register on Windows Azure.
With the release of Windows Azure infrastructure services, Microsoft’s cloud computing stack has now officially completed. In addition to the operation of virtual machines, the update includes the associated network components. Furthermore, Microsoft now offers support for virtual machines and also the most common Microsoft server workloads such as Microsoft BizTalk or SQL Server 2012. In addition to Windows the Linux operating system is fully valid supported on the virtual machines. The Windows Azure Virtual Networks should also allow hybrid operations.
New instances and updated SLAs
In addition to new virtual instances, for example with more storage capacity of 28GB and 56GB, virtual images are also prepared, such as for BizTalk Server and SQL Server. Prepared Linux images, inter alia CentOS, Ubuntu and Suse Linux Enterprise Server (SLES), are provided by commercial vendors. Furthermore, there are numerous open source applications prepared in the VM Images depot on self-service basis. Microsoft server products including Microsoft Dynamics NAV 2013, SharePoint Server 2013, BizTalk Server 2013 have already been tested from Microsoft to run on the virtual machines.
Furthermore, the Service Level Agreements (SLAs) have been revised. Microsoft guarantees 99.95 percent availability including financial security, if there is a failure on Microsoft’s side. In addition to an SLA for cloud services Microsoft offers seven SLAs specifically for memory, SQL database, SQL Reporting, Service Bus, Caching, CDN and media services.
A Microsoft support team is available every day around the clock. The support plans are divided into four levels from developer support through Premier Support.
Price reduction for virtual machines and cloud services
Such as Amazon AWS also Microsoft passes his savings through economies of scale to its customers. This immediately following new prices and extensions are available:
- Virtual machines (Windows, default instances), are up to 31 May in reduced prices. The new general availability rates apply from 1 June 2013. For a small instance the new price is € 0.0671 per hour.
- The prices for virtual machines (Linux) for default instances have been reduced by 25 percent. From 16 April 2013, prices for small, medium, large and extra large instances be reduced by 25 percent. The price for a small Linux instance will be reduced from € 0.0596 per hour to € 0.0447 per hour in all regions.
- The prices for virtual networks start at € 0.0373 per hour, effective from 1 June 2013. Up to 1 June, customers can use the virtual network for free.
- The prices of cloud services for Web and Worker roles were reduced by 33 percent for default instances. From 16 April 2013 the price drops for small, medium, large and extra large instances by 33 percent. The price for a small worker role will be reduced from € 0.0894 per hour to € 0.0596 per hour in all regions.
Not too late for the big part of the pie
Even though Microsoft is very late in the highly competitive market for infrastructure-as-a-service does not mean that they missed the boat. In many countries the adaptation of cloud computing just started. In addition, the big money is made at the established corporate clients and only then with the startups. Even Amazon has understood that and has taken the appropriate measures.
Furthermore, the importance of the private cloud, and thus the hybrid cloud increases worldwide. And here the hand already looks quite different. Microsoft has with its Windows Server 2012 a well-placed product for the private cloud, which can be seamlessly integrated with Windows Azure. Here Amazon AWS can just quickly be active with a possible acquisition of Eucalyptus. A first intensive cooperation between the two companies already exists.
However, the Windows Azure infrastructure services are primarily public cloud services. And here it must be said that the diversity of the service portfolio of the Amazon Web Services is still significantly greater than of Windows Azure. For example, services such as Elastic IP or CloudFormation are missing. Nevertheless, Microsoft with its portfolio is currently the only public cloud provider on the market, who can be seriously dangerous for Amazon AWS. Because „infrastructure means more than just infrastructure“ and therefore it is about „making the infrastructure usable„.
See also: Amazon Web Services vs. Microsoft Windows Azure – A direct comparison (to be updated)
And what about Google?
Google should not be underestimated in any case. On the contrary, in a first performance comparison between the Google Cloud Platform and Amazon AWS, Google emerged as the winner. However, the current service portfolio of the Google Cloud Platform is confined in the core of computing power, storage and databases. Other value added services that rely on the platform, are still missing. In addition, Google can currently only be seen as a pure public cloud provider. In the private/ hybrid cloud environment are no products to be found yet. This needs to be improved with collaborations and acquisitions to meet the needs of conservative corporate customers in the future. Especially since Google still has a not to be underestimated reputation problem in data protection and data acquisitiveness. Here more transparency must be shown.
Microsoft is not yet on par with Amazon AWS
With the official release of the Windows Azure infrastructure services, Microsoft has begun to catch up with the Amazon Web Services in infrastructure-as-a-service market. But a game at eye level can not be mentioned here. Because something new, or even innovations can not be found in the new Azure release. Instead, Microsoft only tries to catch up the technology advantage of Amazon AWS with the extension of infrastructure resources, … but that’s it. The degree of innovation by Amazon should not be underestimate, who expand its cloud platform with other disruptive services and functions at regular intervals.
Nevertheless, in the attractive environment for enterprise customers Microsoft is in a good position and has expanded its portfolio with the Azure infrastructure services with another important component towards Amazon. In addition, Microsoft already has a very large on-premise customer base that needs to be transferred to the cloud now. Among them renowned and financially well-positioned companies. And this is precisely the area in which Amazon has still to build trust. Moreover, one should not neglect the ever-growing private cloud market. Here, the hands on both sides are equally quite different.
That Microsoft is not yet on par with Amazon in the IaaS area does not mean that they will not be successful. It is not necessarily decisive, to be the first on the market and have the best product, but to persuade its existing and potential customers expect to provide an added value. And it would not be the first time that Microsoft would do this.