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Ballmer: Azure ready for release by end of year

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

In comments made to members of the financial community in New York, Ballmer said Microsoft will have “the ability to go to market” with Azure by the time of 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 will compete with Amazon.com Inc.'s Elastic Compute Cloud, or EC2, service as a scalable hosting environment on which developers can build and host their applications. The service is being designed to fill 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 do so in-house.

Developers can use Microsoft's familiar .Net tools to build applications on Windows Azure, which uses the software vendor's virtualization technology to separate applications from whatever operating system they're running on.

Microsoft introduced Azure at last year's PDC in October. At the time, the company didn't say when Azure would be available, but executives have been publicly discussing more details about the service lately.

Last week, for example, Doug Hauger, general manager of marketing and business strategy for Microsoft's cloud infrastructure services group, told a group of investors that the vendor will soon announce pricing for Azure. He added that the service will cost less than the price companies pay to run servers on-premises.

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

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