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Microsoft fills in some cloudware bits with Azure

As expected, Microsoft started to talk up some details of its cloud computing strategy Monday at its Professional Developers Conference.

Amidst all the cloud talk, there were a few deliverables mentioned in Monday’s keynotes including activation codes for four new Azure Services outlined by Microsoft chief software architect Ray Ozzie on Monday morning. Developers and VARs can use those codes to poke around and try out the hosted services.

Those services — hosted by Microsoft but available to participating developers — are Microsoft SQL Services that add reporting and other capabilities to the previously announced SQL Server Data Services; .NET Services including “.NET framework concepts” such as Windows Workflow (WF) and access control; Live Services for storing, sharing and synchronizing data and documents; SharePoint Services and Microsoft Dynamics CRM Services.

It was unclear from the various Ozzie, Bob Muglia and David Thompson speeches exactly which of the SQL Server data services (there will be many) will be accessible soon. This is another rolling rollout.

Muglia, the senior vice president of servers and tools, likened this PDC slate to the 1992 Professional Developers Conference where Windows NT was outlined. He was smart to steer clear of any mention of the past two PDCs and their Longhorn promises.

Throughout the session, which was streamed, the question was (and remains) what the toll will be for the use of this infrastructure. To borrow from an infamous quote attributed to former Microsoft exec Paul Maritz: “What’s the vig?”

Microsoft, the ultimate capitalist, isn’t doing this out of the goodness of its heart. The business model here is every bit as important as the technology — which remains unproven. Most likely it will come in and under price’s for-rent infrastructure.

Ozzie addressed that issue. Kind of. Basically, the business model remains under wraps and will evolve. Here’s the money quote (so to speak) from Ozzie:

“When it is released commercially, Windows Azure will have a very straightforward business model, with costs primarily being derived as a function of two key factors, and apps resource consumption and a specific service level that we agree to provide.

The pricing and models for all the Azure services will be competitive with the marketplace, and we’ll provide a variety of offers and service levels where there may be differentiated requirements across the breadth of developers and markets that we serve as a company from the individual developer to the enterprise.

Azure services offerings will be available directly through the Web and through existing channels and programs, and we’ll give you more details about our offerings as we get closer to commercial release.”

Ozzie was good enough to credit’s efforts from the stage, acknowledging that Microsoft and others would be standing on its shoulders going forward into this massive cloud.

UPDATE (10/28): Here’s what Muglia told The Wall Street Journal re: cloud pricing and profitability:

“As we start charging customers we will start to be able to make money,” Muglia said in an interview.

“We’re in investment mode now,” he added.  He said the service should be profitable fairly quickly.

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