This post is part of a series called “Windows Azure for the ASP.NET Developer” written by Rachel Appel, Adam Hoffman, and Peter Laudati. You can see the complete list of posts in the series at the US Cloud Connection site.
I'm Adam Hoffman, a Microsoft Developer Evangelist based in Chicago. Customers and partners often ask me what the benefits are to moving from on-premise or traditional hosting environments to a cloud based platform like Windows Azure or AWS. If you're an ASP.NET application developer, you'll typically find the answer in one or more of these three reasons - Cost, Focus and Capabilities.
The cost of cloud computing varies based on implementation, workload and usage. There are no absolutes in hosting costs, but in general, the rich flexibility in resource sizing that Azure allows for (in terms of both size and number of compute resources) helps to ensure that you pay for exactly what you need, rather than paying for resources you don't need in a co-located or traditional hosting situation. For a rich discussion of costs associated with Azure hosting, check out http://aka.ms/AzurePricing, or use the interactive calculators at http://aka.ms/AzureCostCalc to model your own workloads. Keep in mind that there are hidden savings to hosting in the cloud as well. For example, in comparison to hosting on premise, you avoid manpower costs associated with staff to manage and maintain your infrastructure. Even if you're already using a traditional hosting arrangement you'll likely save work (and costs) since you avoid the remote maintenance tasks that are typically associated with keeping your systems up, patched and running). Supply side economies of scale, such as geo locating data centers where power is plentiful and cheap, allow companies like Microsoft to offer these services at extremely low rates. Additionally, demand-side aggregation, which mixes in your utilization side by side with other customers, and multi-tenancy efficiencies, which help to reduce overall management costs, all help to push cloud computing costs down. For a 400 level course in cloud economics, check out http://aka.ms/CloudEconomics.
The next thing I talk to customers about is the issue of focus. What business are they in, and what sort of tasks do they want to work on to drive their business forward? Typically, these folks aren't in the hosting or IT business. A cloud hosting solution allows you to minimize the resources you need to expend in maintaining your technical infrastructures and take back that time to work on business objectives that drive their business forward. A cloud story like Azure lets someone else procure hardware and operating systems and make sure that they are properly maintained and patched. Don’t forget, that resourcing flexibility adds up to business agility, key to keeping your business moving forward.
“Speed equals innovation times simplicity, and 80% of the value comes from simplicity.” – Harvard Business Review
It’s simple, really. Speed (of innovation, of time to market, of competitive response) is a key differentiator between businesses that thrive, and those that don’t. Cloud computing is a key ingredient of future “fast” companies. For discussions of this, and many other values of cloud computing, see the rest of what the Harvard Business Review had to say at http://aka.ms/HarvardBizReviewOnCloud. Finally, wouldn't you rather focus on what you like to do, versus have to do. If you are a developer, it is about the code, not the security patch; DBAs can focus on tuning a data solution, not standing up a database server; IT Pros work on getting a business enabling strategy implemented, and not about anther OS update. In all of these cases, "cloud" lets you focus on the career you signed up to undertake.
Finally, there are multiple capabilities that a cloud service like Azure can provide that are unavailable with on-premise or traditional hosting. Maybe you have lots of data to store and distribute – Azure blob storage combined with CDN capabilities bring you fault tolerance, and distributed performance, not to mention geo replication of your data at two data centers hundreds of miles apart to give you peace of mind at no extra cost. For an overview of CDN, see http://aka.ms/AzureCDN.
Another cloud capability that’s impossible to duplicate in a non-virtual environment is dynamic capacity. Cloud services like Azure allow you to grab extra capacity when you need it (for example, in the holiday season), and release it (and not pay for it!) when you don't. On the other hand, with a self-hosted or traditional hosting arrangement, you need to pay for the maximum capacity you'll use at any point in time in order to ensure that it's available when you need it. For example, if you need 10 physical servers worth of capacity from Thanksgiving until the new year, but only 2 physical servers the rest of the year, you'll need to pay for 10 physical servers and waste 80% of their capacity for most of the year. With a dynamically scalable cloud solution like Azure, you can turn on and off capacity in very short order, with zero lead time. For a deeper dive into examples of intelligent IT spending, along with lots of other business value discussions of the cloud, see http://aka.ms/CloudForBizLeaders.
Now, get cloud access at no charge!
There are many compelling reasons to take your development to the cloud, including the combination of Cost, Focus and Capabilities, and there are multiple ways to get started with Windows Azure today. If you’re an MSDN subscriber, you likely have free Azure benefits that you can activate in minutes (http://aka.ms/MSDNAzure). If you’re a BizSpark customer (http://aka.ms/BizSparkAzure) or Microsoft Partner Network (http://aka.ms/MPNAzure), there are no-cost Azure benefits for you as well. If you don’t qualify for benefits via any of these routes, you can still get a free trial (http://aka.ms/azure90daytrial) and get started on your development journey!