MSDN Azure credits… its not for “you”, its for “us” …

So I recently found out about a great new set of offers that Microsoft are offering for all MSDN subscription owners called “Windows Azure Benefit for MSDN Subscribers“. You basically get free Azure credits every month and discounted pricing.

  • MSDN Ultimate – $150 per month
  • MSDN Premium – $100 per month
  • MSDN Professional – $50 per month

This is also combined with a 25% discount in the charge rate for each machine that you are running, and this is fantastic value.

For most SharePoint development and testing teams you will be looking at the top two, although much more expensive the Premium ($2.5k per year) and Ultimate ($4.2k per year) these are the MSDN subscriptions which include Office and SharePoint software for development and testing purposes (check out the MSDN Edition comparison for more details). There are other options out there but a lot of development teams will be using MSDN.

Equally if you are doing SharePoint development which in the Azure world will typically mean an “Extra Large” VM (8 Cores and 14GB RAM). This rolls in at $0.48 per hour of operation, and probably raises another major point … only 14GB RAM?

With Windows 8 Hyper-V (free) and VMWare workstation (around $100) and most contractors running insane dual-SSD 32GB laptops you gotta wonder, why would I want a 14GB VM in the cloud when I can run a 24GB VM locally? Also .. what happens if I am on a train / airport lounge / plane and can’t access the internet?

Well .. good point ..

$100 a month is great, but Azure VMs are very expensive!
Now, I know a few contractor friends of mine in the industry who have looked at this and decided that its not for them .. I am one of them (yes that is right .. I’m advocating a new service which I myself am not going to use).

But this is not really for the sole contractor, and certainly not someone who works all of gods hours (either doing research, writing books or blog posts and preparing for conferences and user groups).

Now this is where the average contractor gets off the Azure train. If you are very busy and put in a lot of extra hours it is not uncommon to run your VM for 12 hours a day plus some conference / user group work at weekends … this can quickly add up*

* note – I realise not everyone works these kinds of hours .. I personally don’t, I have a wife and baby daughter at home and generally work a 9-5 work day .. but I know some people work longer hours, and I sure put in extra time when prepping for conferences

5 days a week @ 12 hours per day, plus another 12 hours over the weekend = 72 hours per week
72 * $0.48 = $34.56 per week
$34.56 * 52 = $1,797 per year
$1,797 / 12 = $149.76 per month

So if you are rolling with MSDN Premium you are going to be out of pocket, and even if you are lucky enough to be an MVP (and have MSDN Ultimate) or just have deep pockets .. you are still scraping the barrel and probably watching the clock every week to make sure you don’t go over the limit.

“You” are not their target audience … “We” are ..
I suppose this really rounds to my core point .. this subscription model is not aimed at the individual developer or contractor. It is aimed at development teams. The place I’m currently at has 5 developers working in three different countries all running MSDN Premium. This gives them a combined allowance of $500 per month of Azure credits.

Being an office-based development team it pretty much runs off standard office hours. The development machines only need to be on for office hours (typically 8am – 6pm unless there is a major version launch coming up) and almost certainly don’t need to run at weekends. With a group of users you can also look at consolidating your infrastructure (why not run a shared SQL instance so you can drop your VM hardware?). Equally you probably don’t need to run all of the services all of the time on every development machine (if you aren’t building a search solution then turn it off!).

With $500 per month to spend they can run 5 XL VMs 9am-5pm every week for free (some weeks you won’t need to have all 5 machines running .. so turning them off when you aren’t using them can help to pay for those other times when you need to run them for longer!).

Even if you do use more horsepower than that .. try putting the figures in front of your IT Manager / Head of Infrastructure … You might be surprised how happy they are to pay for the “extra” over and above those free Azure credits (some months it might cost you an extra $100 or so .. some months you won’t have to pay anything … compare that to other hosting providers and see how much it would cost you!)

How about using it for testing?
One of the other big boons (and possibly the reason I might use a farm like this) is for testing.

It doesn’t really matter how powerful your laptop is, you are never going to be able to build a truly enterprise farm on it (with redundancy in all places and all of the lights and switches turned on). The same credit you get in Azure could be used to model and build massive farms you could use for testing new topologies, or testing load balancing scenarios, or performance and load testing?)

Don’t forget, you only pay for the machines while they are turned on so instead of running 1 XL VM for 20 days a month .. why not create 30 Large VMs and run them for 5 days a month of testing?

Conclusion…
Well, this is a very interesting move from Microsoft .. and stacked up alongside their hosted Team Foundation Server offering this does create a very attractive and extremely low-cost cloud-based development scenario.

It encourages people to stick with MSDN and give Azure a go for development and testing, and I’m sure this will end up leading to many companies taking a much closer look at how Azure works for their production environments as well.

For me ? Well .. I might well use it for the next time I do a Kerberos / Load Testing presentation (the idea of setting up a massive 20 server farm to run for a few days for free sounds pretty cool and a great learning experience to boot).

If nothing else, I’m tempted to setup a VM which I leave turned off and only use it in emergencies (my laptop is broken / stolen  or my VMs are dead for some reason).

Either way .. if you have an MSDN subscription, head over and take a look. You might be surprised how useful it is!

  • nunu10000

    The entire point is for an individual dev to use it for testing, NOT PRODUCTION:

    “We reserve the right to suspend any instance (VM or cloud service) that runs continuously for more than 120 hours or if we determine that the instance is being used for production.”