The Easy Way To Try Out Windows Azure

Windows Azure represents a radical and efficient new way to develop and deploy applications for business, but that doesn't mean it's hard to get started. Here's what you need to do to set it up, plus your chance to have questions about Azure answered directly by Microsoft.

Talk to the current generation of IT managers and execs and you'll hear the same thing -- the cloud represents as big a shift in technology use and management as the PC did in the 80s and the Internet in the 90s and 00s. While Microsoft was at the forefront of the PC revolution in the 80s, it required a significant course correction with the Internet.

There was no chance that Microsoft was going to be caught napping at the cloud revolution and so Azure was born. Azure is Microsoft's online server, software and developer platform. It's important to recognise that Azure isn't a product per se. It's an online platform for building, hosting and scaling applications to meet a business's needs. Although Microsoft has its own Azure product information, Lifehacker's guide to Windows Azure 101 is a great primer to learn the basics. But how can you get hands-on experience?

How do I set up an Azure trial account?

Microsoft offers a try-before-you-buy option with Azure. This is a free 90-day trial that lets you get your head around the capability of Azure without having to outlay lots of money up-front. However, the 90-day does have some limits. It offers 750 hours of a Small Compute Instance. A Compute Instance is a virtual server. A Small Compute Instance is a virtual server with a 1.6GHz processor, 1.75GB of memory and 220GB of storage. If you're interested in seeing what options Microsoft has for Compute Instances, there's a list of the relevant specs at the Azure Compute site. The trial includes 1GB of database storage, 20GB of outbound data, unlimited inbound data and up to 100,000 transactions.

Getting into the trial is straightforward. Go to the Azure Free Trial site and log in with a Live account. The fill in your name, address and other contact information and follow the prompts. At the end, you'll have an Azure account ready for your testing pleasure.

Why do I need to supply credit card details? Is there any risk in doing this?

It might seem like a pain but you'll need to provide some credit card information in order to sign up for the Azure 90-day trial. There's a simple reason for this -- if you exceed the usage limits of the trial, you'll need to stump up for them. The charges are clearly laid out at the Azure special rates site.

What tools do I need to start building Azure applications?

Microsoft provides lots of tools for getting started with Azure. The first port of call are the Windows Azure Tools for Visual Studio. So that you're not left holding the tools with no clue as to what to do next, there are also code samples, tutorials, technical articles and a vigourous online forum for asking questions and sharing what you've learned. All of that is available from the Azure Developer Services site, and there are additional resources you can access as well.

Got additional questions about Azure?

Microsoft have promised to answer questions from readers, so if there’s something else you want to know about any aspect of the platform, pop it in the comments and we’ll have the answers in a future post.