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Microsoft has launched a new Azure technology to give developers a dedicated storage layer for frequently accessed information, and its pricing and features trump similar tech fielded by cloud incumbent Amazon Web Services.

The caching service was launched in a preview format by Microsoft on Tuesday, and marks the creation of another front in Redmond's ongoing war with Amazon Web Services, as it will compete with Amazon ElastiCache.

The preview release of the "Windows Azure Cache Service" gives developers access to a Windows or Linux compatible caching service that can be sliced up into various dedicated instances for any application, whether a dedicated virtual machine or a platform application, or a mobile app.

"The new Cache Service supports the ability to either use a separate Cache Service instance for each of your apps, or instead share a single Cache Service instance across multiple apps at once (which enables easy data sharing as well as app partitioning). This can be very useful for scenarios where you want to partition your app up across several deployment units," Scott Guthrie, a Microsoft cloud veep, wrote.

Each cache instance can give developers up to 150GB of in-memory data for objects or content, with a retrieval latency of 1ms, and an insert latency of around 1.2ms. The service can be integrated with .NET applications via the "NuGet Windows Azure Caching package", allowing developers to PUT and GET things from the tech using a .NET cache API.

"It provides a dedicated Cache that you can use from all of your Windows Azure applications – regardless of whether they are implemented within Virtual Machines or as Windows Azure Web Sites, Mobile Services, or Cloud Services. You'll find that it can help really speed up your applications, improve your app scalability, and make your apps even more robust," Guthrie said.

Pricing for the technology starts at $12.50 per month ($0.017 per hour) for a "basic" service which has a cache size of 128MB across eight dedicated caching units, and which can scale up to 1GB in 128MB increments.

As is traditional for Microsoft, these prices include a 50 percent discount while in preview mode, so they could go to $0.032 or so. This compares with an on-demand hourly price of $0.022 for the weediest cache node available in Amazon's ElasticCache, and $0.014 for a medium utilization reserved cache node.

At the high end, the "Premium" service has caches that range in size from 5GB to 150GB in 5GB increments, and come with notifications and high availability as well.

The pricing shows a clear desire by Microsoft to be competitive with Amazon, but also implies that Redmond is not willing to go as low as Bezos & Co in the long term. The same was true of Azure's preview infrastructure-as-a-service pricing, which upon going to general availability rocketed up to meet and in some cases exceed Amazon's prices.

The service is available from Microsoft's East US, West US, North Europe, West Europe, East Asia, and South East Asia data center hubs. It is compatible with memcached.

What may set the two services apart is Microsoft's auto-scaling ability, which promises to let admins scale the cache "without it losing any of the existing data already persisted in it." This compares with ElastiCache, which requires users to manually add or delete new nodes to scale memory. ®

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