Microsoft has announced that it will offer Australian customers access to its Azure cloud computing services from April.
The services, which include compute, storage and database services on demand, will be hosted in data centres in Singapore and Hong Kong.
The services will be launched via several pricing models.
The first and most obvious is a 'consumption model', whereby subscribers pay per use on a monthly bill.
Microsoft has advertised compute-on-demand for US$0.12 cents per hour and storage-on-demand at US$0.15c per gigabyte per month (and US$0.10 per 10,000 storage transactions).
Customers can also consume SQL database on demand, with the web edition (relational database of up to 1 GB) offered at US$9.99 per month and a business edition (relational database of up to 10GB) at US$99.99 per month.
Customers are charged additional pay-as-you-go fees for Access Control (US$1.99 per 100,000 connections) and Service Bus Connections.
Diane O'Brien, director of Azure strategy at Microsoft said customers in Asia (including Australia) would pay equivalent rates for these services as customers in America, but will pay three times for data transfers.
Australian customers will pay US$0.30c (inbound) for ingress traffic and US$0.45c (outbound) for egress traffic.
This is markedly higher than what the rest of the world enjoys - US$0.10c for inbound and US$0.15c for outbound - and owes to the higher price Australians generally pay for broadband.
Microsoft will also offer customers a 'subscription' model, which provides discounts for customers committing to longer-term contracts.
This model, O'Brien said, is similar to the "payment predictability" and discounts mobile carriers that offer their subscribers over 12 and 24 month contracts.
Thirdly, Microsoft has promised additional special pricing for customers holding Volume Licensing or Enterprise Agreements with Microsoft. Details were not disclosed.
Also on offer was a series of introductory offers to ween users onto the service.
Users can try out 25 hours of compute, 500GB of storage and 10,000 storage transactions for free until the end of July, with a SQL web edition database and 500MB of inbound and outbound traffic thrown in.
MSDN Premium subscribers are offered an even better introductory package - eight months of free access to 750 hours of compute, 10GB of storage, one million storage transactions, three web edition SQL databases and 2.5GB of inbound traffic and 5GB of outbound.
The vendor is also offering a fixed six-month introductory special under its 'Development Accelerator' program.
Meanwhile, Microsoft channel partners have access to 5 percent discounts.
Value for money
Microsoft's Azure pricing for compute-on-demand is competitive with Amazon's Elastic Cloud Compute (EC2 ), but customers wishing to scale to large data sets may find Amazon's sliding scale more attractive.
Microsoft has offered free uploads to its data centres during "off peak" times until June 30. Amazon.com has free uploads 24x7 until June 30, to counter this offer.
Cloud computing analyst Dave Chappell said there is an easy way to choose between Azure and Amazon.
"Amazon gives you virtual machines on-demand with total control, which for some applications is essential," he said. "Windows Azure gives you no control - and for some applications you don't need this control.
"On Amazon, you need admin skills. With Azure, you don't need admins to do all the work. Like all things, its a trade off."
Microsoft is offering service level agreements of between 99.5 percent uptime for its compute and 99.9 percent for instance monitoring, storage, and database availability, as well as for its service bus and access control.
The vendor will give any customer a credit of between 10 and 25 percent on their next bill should it fail to meet one of these service levels.
Microsoft announced that a swathe of Australian customers have already trialled the service - including Real Insurance, accounting software giant MYOB, ninemsn and business partners Fujitsu, Infosys, Avanade, Accenture and Ajiliti, among others.
Leon Manson, chief product officer at Agiliti said that while "he didn't want to go for a 100 percent Microsoft solution", Azure had both the management smarts and the portability his customers would require to consider the cloud.
"Many customers want to start on-premise and then move into the cloud," he said.
Gianpaolo Carraro, director of platform evangelism at Microsoft Australia said the cloud isn't for everybody.
"There are some scenarios from a privacy or regulatory perspective where clouds don't make sense," he said.
He said Microsoft's traditional hosting partners (such as Hostworks, which manages ninemsn.com.au) should not be concerned about Azure.
"Nothing at ninemsn is likely to change in the short term," he told iTnews. "Think of Azure as an additional tool at your disposal. It is not a replacement proposition, but a complementary proposition. Maybe some workloads will move to the cloud, maybe not."