Azure is Free

I keep stumbling upon people that do not have a clue of what Windows Azure is, which makes them not only oblivious but also missing a great opportunity. I started looking into it when it was still a release candidate. I have a few friends at the “big giant” who hooked me up with the service and I experimented quite a bit. It was an interesting experience and I was a bit surprised that administration of the service was simple and size of services are absolutely enough for 90% of my businesses.

Oh, wait! I still have not explained what Windows Azure is. Ha! It’s everything a techie needs on the web. Seriously! If you need something they do not offer, it means you are one of the 3% of the tech world that is weird. At this point (see post date), Microsoft gives away (yep, there are ways to get it free):

  • Web hosting – Joomla, WordPress, Drupal, etc.
  • Virtual machines – Linux, Windows (of course), Storage, etc.
  • Databases – SQL, Hadoop, etc.
  • Marketplace – for your SaaS solution
  • Media and mobile services – many things related to streaming or mobile on the cloud

Ok, I know it sounds like I am selling their stuff (even though I am not associated with them) but actually I will tell you how to get it for free. Ah, now you are interested? Just FYI, I have 4 production VMs, 2 SQL servers, 1 WordPress website (no, not this one – I have been lazy), and 3 storages (where I keep some backups). Yes, I have not paid anything yet. And, I and not talking about how to scam Microsoft. I am talking about programs they have to support students, start-ups, and the entrepreneurial world in general. Regrettably, I am familiar with Canadian and US programs but I am pretty sure you can check with Microsoft’s office in your country too. If they are even a bit of what our guys in Canada are, you can get a lot of free swag.

The obvious thing to start with is 90-day free trial. It will work if you have a credit card. Do not worry, as long as you keep the setting for spending limit at $0, which is the default setting, you are not going to pay a dime.

Then, there is something called DreamSpark. It is a program for students. As long as you can log in with an student account in your accredited school, you are fine. From it you can get licenses for free commercial software. For example, the professional version of Visual Studio 2012 or even Windows Server, instead of struggling with the Express. This program does not offer Azure but I thought you should be using licensed software anyways, when developing for Azure. BTW, installing your project on Azure Cloud is one-click with VS 2012 and it supports JavaScript, jQuery, and other non-MS languages. he program also has free online courses, including ones on Azure.

Now to the real thing. It is called BizSpark. This is the one that will give you free Azure for 2 years. Plus, MSDN Premium subscription – free. Plus you keep all licenses you used – Windows 8, XP, 7, whatever…

You need to apply through a very, very simple process and show them you have a site with a potential to become a business. I assume that if a free website hosting is not enough for you and you think you need a VM or a SQL server, you are aiming higher already. So, you will be able to show potential and trust me – their criteria is not high.

Wait! It is not over yet. Once your business gets traction and you need more VMs and larger DBs, you can get into the next stage of the program – BizSpark Plus. Well, this one is a bit tricky. You can read all the details on their site. The trick here is that you need to prove you are really growing. You also need the support of a business accelerator or incubator. There is an awesome map here, which will show you the partners in your neighborhood or country. The Plus is worth it as it offers a lot of money and discounts in services – usually in the tens of thousands of dollars.

P.S. I hope this article helps. I will monitor the traffic and if people visit it and stay longer, I may add separate posts on the specifics on how to get these things. So, let’s see. You can also shoot me an email and ask questions. I will try and respond to all.

Disclaimer: I keep saying Azure but the official trademark is Windows Azure. I hope you can excuse me for that!