Step-by-Step Guide to Setting up a Windows Azure Free Trial
It's now easier than ever to explore Microsoft’s Windows Azure platform with a free trial. In this article I'll provide you with a step-by-step guide to setting up a free 3-month Windows Azure trial subscription. I'll also share some reasons why you might want to consider Windows Azure, explain what you can expect from a free trial, and give you some pointers on how to get the most out of your trial subscription. I'll even point you to resources that Microsoft has provided that will help you with your questions, with marketing your applications, and more.
Why Get a Windows Azure Trial Account?
If you're new to cloud computing or are evaluating cloud computing providers, you should take a look at the Windows Azure platform. In addition to the benefits commonly associated with cloud computing (elastic scale, consumption-based pricing, self-service IT), Windows Azure also provides a distinctive and reliable data center architecture, a high degree of automated management, and a rich collection of services. If you happen to use Microsoft technologies already, consider that the symmetry between Microsoft's enterprise and cloud platforms allows you to transfer many existing skills to the cloud.
Many people are interested in cloud computing but aren't quite sure what it will mean for them or what it will be like to use. There's no better way to get a sense of that than to perform some insightful experimentation with the cloud. The new Windows Azure 3-Month Free Trial makes it particularly easy to do that without having to spend a cent.
A Windows Azure trial account is more than just a free sample of a service Microsoft hopes you'll subscribe to: it's an opportunity to get a first-hand look at what cloud computing would be like for you and your company in terms of the development experience, the management experience, and the dynamics of consumption-based services. Don't overlook the value of showing the cloud to your colleagues to get them excited about the cloud for technical, financial, or cultural reasons.
What to Expect from a Windows Azure Free Trial
As its name implies, the 3-Month Windows Azure trial gives you three months to use and experiment with the Windows Azure platform. This usage is free but it does have limits, listed in Table 1.
Table 1: Consumption Limits of the 3-Month Windows Azure Free Trial
|Service||Allowance Per Month|
|Windows Azure Compute||750 hours of a Small-size Compute Virtual Machine (VM)|
|Windows Azure Storage||20GB storage with 50,000 storage transactions|
|Data Transfers||20GB outbound data transfer, unlimited inbound transfer|
|SQL Azure Database||1GB Web Edition of SQL Azure Database|
|Access Control Service||100,000 transactions|
|Service Bus||Free through March 31, 2012|
|Caching Service||128MB cache|
How much capability is this? It is enough to run a decent cloud computing solution consisting of a hosted service (such as a web site), supported by storage, relational database, identity, communication, and caching services.
The biggest limitation here is the number of compute hours. 750 hours will get you a single Virtual Machine (VM) instance of the Small-size Compute VM which you can run around the clock (hours are charged for a deployed application regardless of whether or not it is being actively used). In a Production setting you would always want at least two instances for high availability and to qualify for the 99.95% SLA but in a trial setting you can get by with one instance.
The Small-size Compute VM is a pretty capable machine, but you do have the option of using other VM sizes in the trial (Table 2). If you use a size larger than Small you will be dividing your available hours by 2 for Medium, by 4 for Large, or by 8 for Extra Large. If you do this, one easy way to conserve hours is not to leave your solution constantly deployed.
Table 2: Windows Azure Compute VM Sizes
|VM Size||CPU||Memory||Instance Storage||I/O Performance|
|Extra Small||1 GHz||768 MB||20 GB||Low|
|Small||1.6 GHz||1.75 GB||225 GB||Moderate|
|Medium||2 x 1.6 GHz||3.5 GB||490 GB||High|
|Large||4 x 1.6GHz||7 GB||1,000 GB||High|
|Extra Large||8 x 1.6 GHz||14 GB||2,040 GB||High|
If you exceed your allowed usage, what will happen? By default, your trial account has a spending limit of $0. If your consumption goes beyond the limits, your Compute services will be undeployed. Your data will not be removed, but it will be become read-only. You'll receive an email notification that this is happening. If you have remaining months left in your trial, you can re-deploy your compute service and regain read-write access to your data when the next month starts. Alternatively, you can opt to remove the spending limit and any overages will be charged at the standard month-to-month rates.
Note: Be default if your spending limit is set to $0, you will not be charged. You can learn more about setting a spending limit and about avoiding charges in the article, Cloud Computing Cost Control: Providing Peace of Mind.
Here's how to get your free trial set up in 4 easy steps:
Step 1: Start the Free Trial Sign-up Process on Azure.com
You can click the following link to start the trial sign-up process:
Alternatively, you can point your browser to http://azure.com. This will take you to the Azure.com home page as shown in Figure 1. While you're here, I suggest you add Azure.com to your bookmarks since you'll be returning to the site many times to retrieve developer downloads, to view reference information, and manage your account and projects.
Figure 1: Azure.com home page
On the Azure.com home page, click the free trial link which appears prominently near the top right of the site. This will display a summary of the free trial offer and details (Figure 2).
Figure 2: Free Trial Description on Azure.com
The important content on this page is at the bottom: what you get with the free trial and its rules and constraints. Be sure to scroll down and read through the details (Figure 3).
Figure 3: Free Trial Details on Azure.com
If you are comfortable with everything, click the green sign up now link up at the top of the page to start the sign-up process.
Step 2: Choose a Windows Live ID Identity
Once you click the sign up now link in the preceding step, a Windows Live ID sign-in dialog appears (Figure 4). That's because you need to associate a Windows Live ID with your trial account. This is how you'll identify yourself when you return to Azure.com to manage your account and projects.
At this point you'll need to decide whether to use an existing Windows Live ID or create a new one. You may have an existing Windows Live ID if you make use of Microsoft's online services such as MSN, MSDN, Hotmail, or Windows Messenger. Something you should consider is that Microsoft has made it easy to turn your Windows Azure free trial into a standard month-to-month subscription at the end of the trial period. Ask yourself what the purpose of this subscription will be should you decide to extend it past the trial period and what Windows Live ID would be best to associate with it.
If you're going to use an existing Windows Live ID, just enter your username and password, click Sign In, and advance to Step 3. If you need to create a new Windows Live ID, continue on below.
Figure 4: Windows Live ID Sign-in Dialog
You can create a new Windows Live ID by clicking the Sign Up link that appears near the bottom right of the dialog. This will take you to a Create your Windows Live ID dialog (Figure 5). As you fill in the form, note you have the choice of creating a new email address for the identity or associating an existing one with it as you prefer. Be sure to record the email address and password for your Windows Live ID in a safe place.
Figure 5: Create your Windows Live ID Dialog
Review the terms, and if you're comfortable with them click the I Accept button to create your Windows Live ID. Welcome to a great society!