Customers wanted to know, in a recent pilot-program announcement between Microsoft and Amazon, when Microsoft was going to provide with Windows Azure the same kind of virtual machine support that Amazon is doing with its EC2 cloud service. Amazon announced the ability to run Windows Server instances in October 2008, ahead of Microsoft’s unveiling of its Azure beta.
In November 2009, Microsoft officials promised customers that Microsoft plans to make VMs available to Azure customers and developers so that they can customize and run their legacy applications inside of them via a feature known as “Windows Server Virtual Machine Roles on Microsoft Azure.”
At that time, Microsoft officials declined to provide delivery targets for this capability or to provide many other specifics. (They did acknowledge that apps running in VMs won’t be able to take full advantage of the elasticity, multitenancy, and other cloud functionality, but said they still would derive some benefits, such as automatic cloud backup for apps running on the Azure platform.)
In a March 29 Q&A on the ISV Developer Community blog, Microsoft execs reiterated the company’s commitment to providing VM support on Windows Azure, but still weren’t ready to talk pricing. In terms of timing, officials said customers will be able to migrate existing Windows Server apps through the promised managed VM functionality some time in calendar 2010.
Microsoft officials also said that they are conducting a Windows Server License Mobility pilot with select partners and customers, but had nothing new to say about Azure licensing changes at this time. Microsoft execs also said that some time “in the future” Microsoft will allow Windows Azure licensing agreements to be integrated into Enterprise and Select volume-licensing agreements. Microsoft officials said they’d have more to say about these licensing changes in calendar 2010.
The seeming takeaway here is Amazon is offering Microsoft customers better virtualization and licensing options for Windows Server than Microsoft itself is. Although that question wasn’t stated explicitly in the ISV Developer Community blog post, Microsoft officials restated Microsoft’s cloud positioning vis-a-vis Amazon:
“While Windows Azure is a cloud service that uses (and charges via) computation resources that are analogous to physical computers, it differs in important ways from platforms such as AWS that offer VMs on demand. With a purely VM-based platform, the situation is much like hosting: You bear full responsibility for configuring and managing the VMs and the software they contain. With the proposed VM functionality in Windows Azure, while developers have the flexibility to customize the Windows Azure VM and incorporate it in service models, the platform itself takes care of everything else.”