Microsoft's new wave of server products all the more Azure-centric

Enterprise Agreement customers get discounts on Azure; SQL Server 2013 and Windows Server 2012 R2 to have Azure extensions

Microsoft has announced its latest wave of server and service updates. Among the most striking are a significant change to the way Windows Azure pricing works and even more integration options between Azure and Microsoft's server products generally.

As of Nov. 1, Microsoft customers who use the Enterprise Agreement (EA) licensing program will enjoy a discount on Windows Azure pricing, "regardless of upfront commitment, without overuse penalties, and with the flexibility of annual payments."

How much of a discount Azure customers will enjoy hasn't been made clear yet. But this move is right in line with Microsoft's general push to make Azure an appealing option in multiple respects for enterprise customers, including those building a hybrid cloud with both Azure services and on-premises hardware.

User directory management across services is another feature that's being widely touted as a plus for Azure users. Microsoft recently started offering multifactor authentication as a Windows Azure option, for $2 per month per user, and more recently started offering single sign-on for Windows Azure SaaS apps at no additional charge. Even more authentication features are to be offered to Azure customers in the future, too.

Azure is also being offered in a new edition dedicated specifically to U.S. government customers, entitled Windows Azure US Government Cloud. Azure in general has been granted Provisional Authority to Operate (P-ATO) from the FedRAMP (Risk and Authorization Management) Joint Authorization Board, a sort of preemptive seal of approval that indicates Azure meets FedRAMP's standards for security. Microsoft claims Azure is "the first public cloud of its kind to achieve this level of government authorization," although other vendors, including AT&T, HP, Akamai, and Amazon (the latter for its AWS GovCloud service) have received P-ATO or FedRAMP accreditation in the past.

Not everything in Microsoft's spate of announcements is Azure-centric, although it can feel that way, especially given how many of its announcements have some degree of Azure flavor to them. Take SQL Server 2014, for instance: Microsoft is preparing a second preview release of that application, with in-memory database technology as a vaunted feature (with some 10- to 30-fold increase in performance claimed for using it). But SQL Server 2014 also works with Azure "to give customers built-in cloud backup and disaster recovery." Clearly Microsoft wants Azure to be all the more useful even to those who aren't planning a full-blown migration to that service but are still leveraging it in some form.

Likewise, the forthcoming Windows Server 2012 R2 and System Center 2012 R2 releases have something Azure-related. In their case, it's the Windows Azure Pack for Windows Server, which adds some Azure technologies directly to Windows Server as a way of making the experience more consistent between one's local data center and the remote Azure setup.

Also to be released later this month, on Oct. 18, is Visual Studio 2013 and the latest iteration of the .Net platform, .Net 4.5.1. The former features (among other things) async-aware debugging for programmers making use of the asynchronous components added in .Net 4.5. The latter is outwardly a minor revision to the .Net platform, but others have pointed out how 4.5.1. is bigger than it might first seem. Some of the new features include performance improvements on multicore hardware and new diagnostics-gathering interfaces for server -- and cloud -- applications.

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Copyright © 2013 IDG Communications, Inc.