When Ray Ozzie unveiled Windows Azure and the Azure Services Platform at the Microsoft Professional Developers Conference, he made a point of giving credit to Amazon, for its leading work with its Elastic Compute Cloud (EC2), before going into how he sees Microsoft taking the cloud computing concept much further in support of the company's software-plus-services strategy. In fact, along with Amazon, the competitors most mentioned along with Azure are Google and its App Engine, and Salesforce.com and its hosted enterprise applications.
No wonder Microsoft is throwing everything at the wall to see what sticks. The app delivery possibilities of the platform, not surprisingly, are being well-received. Microsoft's Dave Thompson said at PDC that "all our enterprise software will be delivered as an online service as an option," according to CNET News' Ina Fried. Prices are not yet set, but will be "competitive."
On the development side, the announcement that Azure is ready for at least a "community technology preview" is good news for those with the requisite Visual Studio and .NET skills, but unanswered questions linger. What will the pricing structure look like? Will Azure be in reach of only the largest dev shops with the backing and mature project planning to pay a hefty sum at the front end? How far beyond an initial set of standards including REST might the platform go? BetaNews has one of the better quick round-ups of what we know so far about Azure.
And on the question of service agreements and availability, we can all expect to learn in more detail about Microsoft's existing and planned data centers in the coming weeks.