Update: Microsoft sets Windows Azure commercial production date

The cloud platform, which has been in the community technology preview stage, goes to the next phase early in 2010

Microsoft is set to move its Windows Azure cloud platform to a a commercial production stage, Microsoft officials said on Tuesday.

"On January 1, for the first time, Windows Azure will switch to a production service for paying customers," said Ray Ozzie, Microsoft chief software architect, at the Microsoft PDC (Professional Developers Conference) in Los Angeles. Microsoft will execute its production systems and billing systems for Azure, Ozzie said.

[ Recently, a Unisys executive let slip that cloud computing can generate cost savings by cutting U.S.-based jobs. ]

Actual charges, however, will not accrue until February. Azure, introduced at the PDC in October 2008, has been in a community technology preview phase.

"Tens of thousands of developers have participated in the CTP and you've made a tremendous -- a tremendous -- impact on the product," Ozzie said.

Microsoft is offering the full, production-ready version of Azure as of the PDC, adding capabilities such as variable virtual machine sizes to accommodate different-sized services. The full Azure platform also supports platforms such as Java and PHP.

"What is available today is a full-featured version of Windows Azure," said Amitabh Srivistava, senior vice president for Windows Azure at Microsoft.

Ozzie and other Microsoft officials touched on capabilities of Azure, including the ability to run Java applications via the Apache Tomcat server. The company Tuesday also introduced an Azure subsystem codenamed Dallas, which features an marketplace for public and commercial data. "Dallas makes the whole world of data better than the sum of its parts by creating a uniform discovery mechanism for data," said Ozzie.  Dallas, which Ozzie described as "data as a service," now heads to a CTP phase.

"The magic of Dallas is about taking friction out of the process of discovery, exploring, and using data so you can create applications and experiences," said Dave Campbell, Microsoft technical fellow.

Dallas data feeds will be discovered via a new service called Microsoft Pinpoint.

Wordpress was introduced as a user of Azure, as was Cheezburger Network, which will host its oddlyspecific.com Web site, pertaining to strange signage, on Azure. Other companies such as open-source CRM vendor SugarCRM also are signing on as users of Azure.

Microsoft believes that basing its Azure platform on the Windows OS gives it a layer of management unavailable from cloud rivals such as Google and Amazon. "We can drive the costs down," said Todd Proebsting, director of technical strategy for cloud infrastructure services at Microsoft.

Microsoft on Tuesday unveiled Project Sidney, an Azure capability for establishing connections between on-premises servers and servers running in the cloud. Sydney capabilities are due next year.

Microsoft also introduced a beta release of Windows Server AppFabric, providing application services for developers to more easily deploy and manage applications spanning the server and the cloud. AppFabric combines hosting and caching technologies formerly codenamed Dublin and Velocity with the Windows Azure AppFabric Service Bus and AppFabric Access Control, formerly known as .Net Services.  AppFabric technologies will be featured in Azure and Windows Server.

Plans for Azure in January call for addition of geo-replication support, providing data replication for customers, with data to be stored in another datacenter within the user’s region of operations.

This story was updated on November 17, 2009

This story, "Microsoft sets Windows Azure production date," was originally published at InfoWorld.com. Follow the latest developments in cloud computing at InfoWorld.com.

Copyright © 2009 IDG Communications, Inc.