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:
Figure 10: Developer Center on Azure.com
Once you indicate your preferred way to develop, you’ll be taken to a platform-specific developer center such as the .NET Developer Center shown in Figure 11.
Figure 11: .NET Developer Center on Azure.com
From here you can download the tools you need and will find plenty of tutorials and reference information to get you underway. I also recommend you download the Windows Azure Training Kit and go through the hands-on labs that interest you.
Note: For step-by-step instructions on how to create your first Windows Azure application, check out our hands-on tutorial, Creating a Windows Azure Application: A Step-by-Step Guide .
Managing Your Projects
You’ll also need to know how to manage your Windows Azure projects—that is, the deployments, storage accounts, databases, and namespaces for services you use. That is done in a separate management portal, which you can get to by clicking the manage link that appears at the top right of Azure.com when you are signed in (Figure 12). To go to the management portal directly, visit http://windows.azure.com.
Figure 12: Azure.com link to Windows Azure Management Portal
Covering how to use the management portal is beyond the scope of this article; however, the tutorials on the developer center will get you going and now you know where to find it.
Get Plugged in to Community
On the support area of Azure.com you’ll find links to online forums. On the community area of Azure.com you’ll find posts from the Windows Azure blog. Developers should take advantage of the strong community support Windows Azure enjoys.
Microsoft Platform Ready
Microsoft provides many programs for developers, and one of the notable ones is Microsoft Platform Ready (MPR). MPR provides helpful resources to plan, build, test, and take your solution to market and they are all free. This includes some neat online testing tools and the ability to submit applications to the Windows Azure Marketplace. You’ll also find a jumping off point for tools, valuable Windows Azure related blogs, email, chat, and phone help options.
If you are a Microsoft Partner Network member, then you can also find information for earning a “Powered by Windows Azure” logo on the MPR site.
Promoting Your Azure Applications
If you are building a public application on Windows Azure, then you are likely going to want to promote it. If promotional help is needed, then once again, Microsoft Platform Ready can help. The MPR team can help you with promotion via the Windows Azure Marketplace.
Managing your Free Trial Account
As time goes by you’ll no doubt be curious about what your usage of the trial account has been and what that might have cost you if you were on a standard month-to-month subscription. You can easily track your activity on Azure.com.
Whenever you’re on Azure.com and have signed in, you can get to account activity by clicking the account link at the top of the page. This will display a summary of your subscription(s) including your free trial (Figure 13). You can see at a glance what your costs are. There’s also a reminder of how many days remain in your free trial.
Figure 13: Subscription List on Azure.com showing 3-Month Free Trial
Select the 3-Month Free Trial subscription to view details and you’ll be taken to an account overview (Figure 14). Initially of course you won’t have any usage to report.
Figure 14: 3-Month Trial Subscription Overview (Top) on Azure.com
The overview page shows consumption that is included in your subscription (i.e. at no charge). If you scroll further down the page you’ll see there is also an area that shows pay-as-you-go consumption (Figure 15). Unless you intentionally remove the $0.00 spending cap that is the default on a 3-Month Trial Subscription, there’s no worry of seeing any charges here.
Figure 15: 3-Month Trial Subscription Overview (Bottom) on Azure.com
Upgrading or Canceling a Trial Subscription
If during or at the end of the trial period you would like to upgrade your trial subscription to a standard month-to-month subscription, go to the subscription overview page on Azure.com (Figure 13) and click on the Would you like to upgrade now? link that appears below on your list of Windows Azure subscriptions. If you’re sure you want to proceed, select the yes, upgrade my subscription option in the subscription upgrade dialog (Figure 16) and click the check button. This will lift the spending cap. If you’re still within the trial period, you’ll still get the allowed free consumption for the remainder of the trial and will only be billed for overage. Once the trial period ends you’ll be charged for all consumption.
Figure 16: Subscription Upgrade dialog
Canceling Your Subscription
To cancel your Windows Azure subscription, go to the subscription overview page for your trial account (Figure 13) and click the Cancel Subscription link in the list of tasks at right. Confirm the cancellation and that’s all there is to it.
Call to Action
Given its potential benefits, you owe it to yourself to investigate cloud computing. Microsoft has made this simple and risk-free with the Windows Azure 3-Month Free Trial. Taking advantage of the free trial will give you a hands-on experience with Microsoft cloud computing that will provide insights and clarity into where the cloud can take you and your organization.
Additionally, once you’ve set up your account, you’ll have a variety of resources that you can tap into in order to get the most out of it. This includes the MPR program mentioned earlier, as well as the articles, tutorials, and other blogs.
This article was sponsored by Microsoft Corporation, but written independently by the author