Ballmer: Azure ready for release by end of year

Ballmer said Microsoft plans to release its Windows Azure cloud-computing platform before the end of the year.

Microsoft plans to release its Windows Azure cloud-computing platform before the end of the year, Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer said Tuesday.

In comments made to members of the financial community, Ballmer said Microsoft will have "the ability to go to market" with Azure by the end of this year at its Professional Developers Conference (PDC) in November.

"[Azure] will reach fruition with the PDC this year," he said. Ballmer spoke to Wall Street analysts Tuesday to give them an update on Microsoft's financial status and what they can expect from the company for the remainder of the fiscal and calendar year. Microsoft's fiscal year ends on June 30.

Azure competes with Amazon's Elastic Compute Cloud (EC2) as a scalable hosting environment on which developers can build and host their applications. The service fills an emerging market need for hosted infrastructure that allows companies to cut IT costs by building and deploying applications on the Web rather than spending money to build IT infrastructure on premise.

Developers can use Microsoft's familiar .NET tools to build applications on Windows Azure, which uses Microsoft's virtualization technology to separate applications from whatever OS they are running on.

Microsoft introduced Azure at its PDC 2008 in October. The company did not say when it would be available, but executives have been publicly discussing more details about the service lately.

Last week Doug Hauger, general manager of marketing and business strategy for Microsoft's cloud infrastructure services group, told a group of investors that Microsoft soon will announce pricing for Azure, which will cost less than the price companies pay to run a server on premise.

Customers also will have a pay-as-you-go option for the service, but can get discounts if they want to prepay, Hauger said.

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