Announced during the week of MMS 2013, Microsoft is now providing the ability for organizations to host Virtual Machines (VMs) in the Windows Azure Cloud, a.k.a., Windows Azure Infrastructure Service (IaaS).  For the longest time, Windows Azure has been considered a developer’s platform, but Microsoft is steadily improving their Cloud offerings and increasing the functionality for general business consumption.

At the System Center Universe event in Austin, Texas earlier this year, my good buddy, Joey Snow (Channel 9 guy), talked about the pending release of Windows Azure VMs, and gave a few examples of the value that hosting VMs could bring to IT groups.  At first thought, you may not consider that hosting VMs in the Cloud could provide much value, but there are definitely some value prospects to think about.

If you’re interested in catching Joey’s presentation on Windows Azure VMs, jump out to the following link and locate Part 3 or 4 of the day’s events: System Center Universe 2013 event videos are live!

For me, Joey’s talk was a bit earth shifting, allowing me to dismiss my reluctance to embrace Windows Azure as an IT platform, and instead develop my own thoughts around how valuable it would be to utilize a VM in the Cloud.

Here’s my top 5 reasons to try it out:

  • Patch Testing– There’s been a rash of rereleased patches recently where Microsoft has discontinued updates due to QA issues.  Wouldn’t it be nice to be able to deploy and test the patch in a non-production environment before deploying throughout the organization?  Use a VM to test patches to minimize business disruption and support headaches.
  • Application Deployment– How long does it take to deploy an application accurately and with company-specific policies (i.e., silently and with explicit features)?  Use a Windows Azure VM to create and test the latest application deployment.
  • Instant Lab– I don’t know how many times I’ve heard IT folks complaining that they have no budget for lab equipment, and instead have to simulate a lab environment the best they can.  The Windows Azure VM environment gives you instant access to all the lab resources you need.
  • OS Testing– How long did it take your company to decide if the next version of Windows Server provided enough new features to warrant an upgrade?  Or, how long does it take to figure out those annoying Linux driver issues?  Crazy, I know, but Windows Azure supports Linux VMs, as well as, Windows Server, giving you the ability to determine your OS upgrade path without too much headache.
  • Application Testing– Testing application compatibility has often been a hit-and-miss situation where you only learn of compatibility issues after the new application or new application version is rolled out.  Use a Windows Azure VM to test that questionable app before it brings your company’s finance application down for a day.

These are my top 5, just off the top of my head.  I’m sure you’re already considering some ideas of your own.  If you come up with something off-the-wall cool, drop me a note.  I’d love to hear your ideas.

You can get a 90-day free trial of Windows Azure by jumping to the following link:  Windows Azure Free Trial

Microsoft charges for VMs hosted by Windows Azure at an hourly rate, and there is promotional, discount pricing available until June 1st, 2013.  Not only does Microsoft offer some ready-made VMs to choose from, you can also upload your own custom images of your own servers.  Imagine creating a VM of your server, uploading it to Windows Azure, and having it immediately available. 

P.S. If you’re looking for a step-by-step for creating your own VM for consumption in the Windows Azure Cloud, read through Buck Woody’s excellent post here:  Creating a Windows Azure Virtual Machine - the RIGHT Way