The official launch of the Windows Azure (news, site) cloud is now upon us. It's been in the works for a few years, and well tested -- even if Microsoft does not fully utilize it themselves.

An Azure Cloud for All

Well, for 21 countries at least. That's right, Microsoft is making Windows Azure and SQL Azure available in 21 countries under the full support of customer and partner SLAs.

Microsoft's cloud computing platform was initially released last fall and offers an operating system and developer services that can be used individually or together.

If you sign up for a commercial subscription, you'll get the Windows Azure platform AppFabric Service Bus and Access Control for free until April. And, "Dallas" Microsoft's codename for the information marketplace for developers is still available as a CTP.

In their blog post announcing the general availability of Azure, the Azure team states that since January thousands have already moved from CTP to production. For those that haven't, pay attention to these dates:

  • Accounts not upgraded have already been marked disabled and Azure Storage is read only
  • SQL Azure CTP customers have until March 1 to upgrade or their account will be deleted
  • Windows Azure Storage accounts have until April 1 to upgrade or their account will be deleted

Updated pricing has also been announced for the AppFabric platform. The Service Bus costs US$ 3.99 per Connection-month and Access Control is US$ 1.99 per 100,000 transactions.

To sign up or extend your subscription, head over to the Windows Azure website.

A little interesting to note that Microsoft doesn't fully utilize the Azure cloud for their own platforms and apps. Mary Jo Foley of ZDNet says that services like Hotmail,  Exchange Online, SharePoint Online, the BPOS and more are currently not hosted in the Azure cloud. But that doesn't mean they won't at some point.

Tolling the Virtues of Cloud Interoperability

And while many get ready to move into the Azure cloud officially, Microsoft speaks out about the benefits of interoperability in the cloud. And by interoperability we mean enabling Azure to work with other clouds as well as platforms and applications.

Craig Shank, Microsoft general manager in charge of interoperability work on global standards and public policy says, "There’s a tremendous level of creative energy around cloud services right now — and the industry is exploring new ideas and scenarios together all the time. Our goal is to preserve that flexibility through an open approach to cloud interoperability."

Apparently Microsoft welcomes competition and choice, saying it will only make them more successful.

Want more information on Microsoft's work on interoperability? They have published a whitepaper that talks about the work the Interoperability Executive Customer (IEC) Council as been doing, outlining discussions and major achievements in the last three years.