Azure steps up its game with per-minute billing

Will Amazon follow?

It took Microsoft a while to launch its Azure infrastructure-as-a-service offering, but I’m seeing signs that it’s one to watch among enterprise service providers.

Today Microsoft announced it is now offering per-minute billing. Most providers charge by the hour, although Google Compute Engine recently also began offering per-minute billing.

Amazon is still offering billing by the hour. I've asked the company if it wants to comment on Azure's move and will update this post if I hear a response.

In a blog post, Microsoft noted that 65 minutes of use could cost more than double on a competitive cloud service, now that it's offering per-minute billing. It’s literally the difference of only pennies but “multiply that by the thousands of virtual machines that you may ultimately run, [and] the difference adds up quickly,” Scott Woodgate and Karri Alexion-Tiernan, Windows Azure product marketing, wrote in the blog post. “Suddenly you may find your cloud economics are not what you thought they would be.”

I’m getting the sense that Microsoft is pushing hard on its IaaS offering. I recently talked to Citrix about some of its new mobile offerings, including a new option for businesses to store files using Citrix ShareFile – its DropBox competitor – on Azure. Businesses had been able to use AWS but adding Azure gives customers an additional option, which could be useful based on data center locations of AWS and Azure.

Citrix executives told me that the company was just waiting for the Azure IaaS service to become available so that it could offer this option. For Citrix, one benefit to the deal is that Microsoft sales people will sell the Citrix ShareFile service. The executives said that Microsoft sales people have Azure quotas and are looking for ways to push the service.

That could be paying off. In a different blog post today, Satya Nadella, president of Microsoft’s server and tools business, wrote that 30,000 organizations have started using the IaaS offering since April. However, I put little stock in these kinds of numbers. It’s possible that many of those organizations spun up an instance just to try it out.

Still, Azure has a lot going for it. Azure’s IaaS offering doesn’t have the same buzz factor as the open source options like OpenStack, Cloudstack and Eucalyptus, or the serious head start as market leader AWS. But it has something significant – huge presence in the enterprise. Businesses that already use Microsoft server products are finding it’s very easy to turn to the company to burst into the public cloud. While the new entrants are better suited to large deployments by organizations with the capacity to build custom implementations, Microsoft and some other traditional enterprise vendors – like VMware – may ultimately be better suited to standard deployments by enterprises that don’t want or need a customized service.

Read more of Nancy Gohring's "To the Cloud" blog and follow the latest IT news at ITworld. Follow Nancy on Twitter at @ngohring and on Google+. For the latest IT news, analysis and how-tos, follow ITworld on Twitter and Facebook.

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