Amazon's cloud to host Windows Server

After tests are completed sometime this fall, the cloud provider announced this morning, customers will be able to deploy complete Windows Server-based machine images to Amazon's high-capacity computing cloud, eliminating hardware costs.

In what could be a waterspout moment, if you will, for cloud computing, Amazon Web Services (AWS) developer Jeff Barr announced this morning that his operation is currently hosting a private beta of hosted Microsoft Windows Server instances. Within the next three months, AWS customers will be able to deploy machine images with 32- or 64-bit versions of Windows Server -- including high-performance packages -- to Amazon's cloud, to be hosted remotely.

The move will enable small businesses to deploy conceivably major server applications, such as Unified Communications or large SQL Server databases, paying only by the month for storage consumed and bandwidth used, without any hardware purchases for servers whatsoever.

"You will be able to use Amazon EC2 to host highly scalable ASP.NET sites, high performance computing (HPC) clusters, media transcoders, SQL Server, and more. You can run Visual Studio (or another development environment) on your desktop and run the finished code in the Amazon cloud," Barr told customers in a post to AWS' blog.

Already AWS hosts a variety of flavors of Unix systems, including Solaris, and makes available a choice of three Linux standard distributions upon which customers can build a cloud machine image (AMI). Amazon is not saying whether it will sell licenses for Windows Server or whether they must be purchased separately, though that's certainly not out of the question. In fact, it may be necessary, since Microsoft's current licensing policy for Windows Server -- even after a recent policy change to account for shifting virtual machine instances among processors -- remains almost comically confusing.

Amazon's Elastic Computing Cloud (EC2) services are sold using a two-tier formula, the first of which involves instances -- images that are roughly equivalent to the leasing of a computer processor, except in the virtual space. You can adjust how powerful you want that processor to be. You're then charged by the number of PUT and GET requests your system receives per month. Those charges are added to the storage space you lease from Amazon's S3 service.

With charges broken down in granularity in terms of cents (use this calculator from Amazon to see for yourself), the monthly charge for running a high-intensity computing operation can still be maintained to under $1,000 per month. You're still administering the applications on your machine images using your own personnel; and with Windows Server, you could conceivably deploy System Center and run it from a remote desktop as though it were on-site. Still, this makes certain high-intensity applications that were once the exclusive purview of big universities and financial institutions, suddenly feasible for smaller schools and local banks and credit unions.

At the Interop show in New York last month, there were multiple prominent hints at the likelihood of a Windows Server hosting deal for Amazon, though sources at the time cautioned us it was all still speculative.

Amazon is inviting interested customers to sign up for notification as to when Windows Server hosting will be made publicly available.

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