Microsoft is taking big strides to make its Azure cloud service more attractive. The company has announced several updates to the platform aimed at improving its usability. The company, which has long been criticized for a less-than-friendly stance on open source, is continuing to show that giants can change. Several of the recently announced updates improve support for open source development on Azure.

A Friendlier, More Open Azure

Microsoft is in an ultra-competitive battle to be one of the top major infrastructure-as-a-service and platform-as-a-service vendors. Amazon’s AWS still dominates the sector, but Microsoft continues to improve its offering in hopes of catching up with the industry leader. Microsoft has released its latest round of Windows Azure and SQL Azure enhancements. The most recent update includes:

  • An Azure software development kit (SDL) for .Net, Java and Node.js. The SDK is licensed under an Apache license and is available on GitHub. Inclusion of Node.jas is particularly notable since a stable Windows version of the popular Node.js JavaScript framework was announced only last month.
  • A preview of Hadoop for Azure that the company is developing with the support of Hortonworks. The CTP release should be available this week for a “limited” set of customers.
  • Updates to several open source tools like the Azure plugin for Eclipse, a preview release of MongoDB and support for Memcached.
  • Tripled the maximum data size in SQL Azure. The increase is free and requires no subscription changes.
  • Support for SQL Azure Federation.

In addition to the feature changes, Microsoft has also made several changes to its pricing structures and management tools. The Windows Azure management portal now features a Windows 8 Metro style user interface.


SQL Azure now has a new price cap that lowers the price per gigabyte by approximately 67%. The company is also indicating that the data transfer price in North America and Europe is being reduced by 25% and Service Bus usage is free through March 2012. Microsoft is hoping to attract new users to the service by offering a free 90-day trial with generous spending caps for usage.

Although the release includes a substantial set of improvements, it is missing a few that Microsoft had promised before the end of 2011 in their summer Azure roadmap. The platform is still missing:

  • application server virtualization support
  • the final build of Azure reporting services (the update included another CTP)
  • VM role support

What This Means

Although Microsoft has traditionally focused on development with its tools and products, its moves indicate the company has acknowledged the closed, company-centric approach is no longer practical. Developers and companies have embraced services like AWS, that don’t restrict development style or technologies. Web development has become a polyglot endeavor and all companies, including giants like Microsoft, must support it if they are to be successful.