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Amazon EC2 Reaches Out To Windows Developers

Amazon Elastic Compute Cloud (EC2) is upping the ante with Microsoft's competitive cloud platform, Azure, by matching its free offer of up to 750 hours per month, for up to a year, of developer time for Windows Server 2003 R2, 2008 and 2008 R2 editions. As part of its Amazon Web Services (AWS) Free Usage Tier, customers can select from a range of pre-configured Amazon Machine Images with Microsoft Windows Server 2008 R2 and, once running, connect via Microsoft Remote Desktop Client to build, migrate, test and deploy their Web applications on AWS in minutes.

Previously only available to Linux server users, the program addition is open to new AWS customers and to those who are already participating in the Free Usage Tier, and is available in all AWS Regions with the exception of GovCloud, blogs Amazon's Jeff Barr. "The micro instances provide a small amount of consistent processing power and the ability to burst to a higher level of usage from time to time. You can use this instance to learn about Amazon EC2, support a development and test environment, build an AWS application, or host a website (or all of the above). We've fine-tuned the micro instances to make them even better at running Microsoft Windows Server."

"This is Amazon's latest attempt to demonstrate the flexibility of EC2 and make it appealing to as many people for as many use-cases as possible," says analyst Jeff Kaplan, managing director, THINKstrategies.

Unlike Microsoft, AWS is OS-agnostic because it doesn't have a broader financial interest in Windows vs. Linux, says Melanie A. Posey, research VP, hosting and managed network services, IDC. "However, AWS does have an interest in making the same programs and features available to customers regardless of their preferred OS/development environments. The important thing with the free Windows micro instances announcements is the ability to reach into the non-Linux community."

She says that as cloud goes mainstream, the expectation is that there will be more and more mainstream development taking place on/in the cloud, and that a lot of these developers will come from Windows backgrounds. "Keeping pace with Azure is also a factor, given all the talk of Microsoft making app development OS-agnostic inside its System Center framework. Since Microsoft also seems to be shifting Azure from PaaS to more generic IaaS, it makes sense for AWS to make at least baby steps toward making EC2 a bit more Windows-friendly. Free micro instances is one way to get the ball rolling for the Windows developer community."

However, this still doesn't change the software licensing issues that IaaS providers face with Windows-based environments, says Posey. "Longer-term, the strategy might be to force Microsoft to the table with more attractive cloud licensing terms for Windows servers--AWS might be in a position to do this if they can build up a happy base of Windows users through the free micro instances program."

Analyst Krishnan Subramanian thinks that in addition to reaching out to non-Linux users, Amazon has another objective in mind. "There are some Microsoft developers who go with Amazon Windows instances rather than Azure because Amazon is more cost effective for them. With this free tier, Amazon will be able to get more such developers, who might be tending toward Azure because of the Bizspark free option. I think it is a good strategic move by Amazon to keep these Microsoft users on their side."

For the immediate future, Subramanian expects, it will help them get more Microsoft users who don't want to go with Azure for various reasons, including philosophical differences with the company. In the long term, this will help Amazon be the next favorite destination for Microsoft users who want to diversify their applications beyond one cloud provider (Microsoft Azure).

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