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Azure updates, too

Windows Azure proper is getting a few tweaks at TechEd this week as well.

First, in reaction to the per-minute pricing that Google announced last month for its Google Compute Engine infrastructure cloud, Microsoft is moving to per-minute billing for the raw VM capacity and web instances on Windows Azure (specifically for "Web Roles" and "Worker Roles", in the Azure lingo).

Unlike Google, which has a 10-minute minimum purchase for capacity, Microsoft is imposing no such limit. Effective June 3, the Windows Azure billing system is no longer rounding up to the nearest hour, as it has been doing; you don't have to do anything special to get per-minute billing, it will just happen automatically starting today.

Developers are also going to be getting some Windows Azure goodies. Those coders who have a subscription to MSDN and who use Microsoft's Visual Studio Pro, Ultimate, or Premium development tools will get $150 in Windows Azure services per month for free. "It will feel like having about three dev/test servers in the cloud at no cost," says Schutz.

Microsoft will be previewing Azure BizTalk Services, which fluffs the BizTalk integration tool on the Microsoft public cloud so it can be used to glue various SaaS applications to each other, to applications running in the cloud or to applications running inside the corporate data center.

The Azure BizTalk service is in tech preview now, and Microsoft is not giving a data for when it will be ready for primetime. Schutz did say that it was not in any way linked to the availability of Windows Server 2012 R2 later this year.

Cranking up OLTP

A little higher up in the Microsoft enterprise stack is a preview of the SQL Server 2014 relational database, which will also be previewing in late June.

SQL Server 2014, which was developed under the very un-Microsoft code-name "SQL14," has an in-memory columnar store alternative to relational database tables (as all databases seem to these days). This columnar data store was first discussed as project "Hekaton" last November, when Microsoft was promising that the combination of that new format plus in-memory processing would allow SQL Server 2014 to chew through queries as much as 50 times faster than SQL Server 2012.

The details of this Hekaton in-memory processing were not available at press time, but more no doubt will be disclosed at TechEd this week.

What Schutz did say is that the upcoming SQL Server 2014 would have a number of capabilities to enable hybrid public-private clouds, including a new backup/restore capability that will allow SQL Server shops to pump their database tables out to Windows Azure instances set up to run SQL Server. This means they will not have to have spare servers in their data centers.

This backup/restore feature of SQL Server 2014 needs virtual machines configured in a like-for-like setup on Windows Azure virtual machines. It does not make use of the Azure SQL Service, which is based on SQL Server but is designed to be a part of Microsoft's platform cloud. You would think that backing up to the Azure SQL Service would be easier and better, but perhaps Microsoft wants to make a little money on virty servers, storage, and software licenses, not just on bandwidth and storage.

Here's how the backup/restore of databases works. To do the cloud backup, you use a T-SQL command with a pre-provisioned Azure URL and Azure storage key. Once the backup is pumped out to Azure storage, you can restore it to an Azure VM through the Azure portal. You can also set up an Azure VM as an always-on secondary machine for the production database server.

If you do that, there is a wizard in SQL Server Management Studio that collects the information you need and spins up the Azure VM and deploys it as a secondary database server. This wizard can also be used to move a production SQL Server database to Azure VMs, by the way.

SQL Server 2014 will preview in late June, and Schutz says that it will be generally available shortly after Windows Server 2012 R2 and System Center 2012 R2 come out later this year. ®

*Temperatures in Louisiana are expected to be in the 90s (or 30s if you're the Celcius type) throughout the week.

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