Microsoft "evaluating" bulk import service for Azure

Microsoft is considering a new service that will allow users of its Azure cloud services to send it disks for bulk data upload.

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Early customers of Microsoft's Azure cloud services have asked the software giant whether it will allow them to upload data to the service by shipping media for transfer at the Azure data centers and Microsoft is "evaluating" the idea, according to Dianne O'Brien, the company's Senior Director for Business Strategy.

Such services are useful for cloud computing customers because uploading large amounts of data to a cloud service can take unfeasible amounts of time. Azure rival Amazon Web Services (AWS) therefore offers a service called "AWS Import/Export" that allows customers to ship storage devices weighing up to 50 pounds to the company. In the past, AWS has said it hopes to extend that service to Australian and New Zealand companies. Microsoft offered no time-frame for the unveiling of any competitive offering, but did say that Azure will launch in Australia in April 2010.

The company also announced pricing for Azure's storage services. Local users will pay the same price as global users, with storage charged at $US0.15 per gigabyte per month, plus $US0.10 per 100,000 transactions to data stored on Azure's servers. Data transfers will be charged at $US0.10/GB to upload and $US0.15/GB to download from the company's US-based servers. The company also has Azure hosting centers in Singapore and Hong Kong, but prices for those facilities - $US0.30/GB in and $US0.45/GB - are higher as Microsoft says bandwidth charges are higher in the region. Data uploads are free at off-peak times.

O'Brien said the company will seek to ensure that future fluctuations in the exchange rate do not see Australian users charged more than overseas customers, but said Microsoft could not commit to a "spot rate" that would dynamically alter local pricing.

The company will commit, however, to 99.5% availability of data stored in the Azure cloud and will refund customers by reducing their next monthly charge if this service level is not met.

Those charges will be calculated in three ways, one of which is the pay-as-you-go model familiar to users of many cloud services. A second payment plan will offer subscription services to Azure, with these plans offering discounted access to the service. Enterprise licensing customers will be able to bundle Azure into their packages should they choose to do so, a third payment model.

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