Microsoft also has an extensive range of partners that have built strong relationships with enterprises and can help them get to the cloud.
Martin admitted that it is a hard sale to try to persuade an organization to move existing infrastructure to the cloud. So Microsoft has been focusing on ways that Azure can extend an organization's current infrastructure as a first step.
Software test and development, Web hosting, backup and continuity of operations, and media services all fit into this model.
Each of these services can stand alone and each can be moved relatively painlessly to the cloud -- at least compared to the legacy applications with deep roots in the data center.
With Web hosting, Microsoft is offering a cost advantage. "People who are hosting Web servers are finding we can host them far more efficiently," Martin said.
With application development and testing, ease of use can be a strong incentive. "One of the pain points for developers is getting a server from IT, provisioning it, setting it up. Instead of that taking a month or six months, you can now do that in a matter of minutes," Martin said.
The cloud also offers the ability to test a newly developed application on scale. Testing how an application would run across 50 servers would be expensive in a hosting facility and even impossible using the organization's own resources.
The ExpressRoute service should help make it easier for organizations to extend their operations to Azure. Organizations can connect directly to Azure through a number of conduits.
They can link to any one of 100 Equinix data centers worldwide. They can also establish an MPLS (Multiprotocol Label Switching) VPN (virtual private network) through AT&T. Or, they can connect to a conduit provided by Level 3 Communications, thanks to a recent partnership between Microsoft and the ISP.
Using a private, dedicated connection helps ensure that data transfers happen in a consistent, predictable fashion, a guarantee difficult to make using the Internet with its ever-varying traffic levels. Throughput is guaranteed, paving the way for establishing and meeting service level agreements.
Private connections also allow the organization to easily extend its internal data-center operations to Azure. It can provision additional resources from Azure without changing its IT architecture.
Such extensions can be particularly useful for traffic bursts, such as an e-commerce vendor's heavy traffic during the year-end holiday stretch, or for big events, such as the Olympics.
Trek, a Waterloo, Wisconsin, manufacturer of high-performance bicycles is among the companies moving to Azure.
The company has developed a point-of-sale system, called Ascend, to serve its 5,000 independent bicycle retailers across 65 countries.
By moving Ascend operations to the Azure cloud, Trek expects to cut IT hosting costs by $15,000 per month, as well as shorten to a few hours the two-to-six weeks it takes to upgrade servers. The company is already saving $5,000 per month from its use of Azure.
"We think of Azure as a data center," said Steve Novoselac, Trek's business intelligence and .Net development manager.
The company previously ran Ascend from a colocation facility, and ran its test and development chores in-house. The Ascend customer application was built on .Net, using Windows Forms and C#, with a copy of SQL Server running the back end.
Ascend is now run largely on Azure, as is the Ascend website, which runs on SharePoint, and the company blog, which runs on WordPress.
Cloud services can actually be less expensive than Web hosting for a variety of reasons, Novoselac said.
First of all, Azure offers a greater nuance of billable resources.