Since this post will likely come off as a bit of a rant, let me just state that overall I think the Windows Azure platform is great. The support offering however, is very poor indeed.
I'm going to compare a Windows Azure Web Site to the sort of Windows hosting plan you might find elsewhere on the internet.
According to the Windows Azure calculator it will cost me £6.16 a month (about £70 a year) for 1 shared Web Site instance.
This is actually pretty good value, especially considering I get all the bells and whistles that come with the Azure portal and features like Git/Web deploy, website backup and web jobs.
Also according to the cost calculator, support is included - bonza!
Now let's look at an alternative hosting provider, Arvixe. I already use Arvixe for hosting a few of my clients' websites so I know they offer a good level of service and support.
For around £3 a month (£36 a year) I can sign up for their Personal Class ASP plan. This includes up to 6 websites, unlimited diskspace and bandwidth, a pretty nice control panel (WebsitePanel) and web deploy. That's a lot of bang for your buck.
So essentially Windows Azure will cost me double for only 1 website. That said, it's still pretty good value and as I've already mentioned the deployment story and integration with Microsoft's development tools is second to none.
Unfortunately there is one crucial "feature" that is missing from the Windows Azure option that I get for free with most other hosting providers - Support.
Now I know I said that support was included in Windows Azure but if we dig a little deeper you'll see that all you actually get is billing support. If you want technical support it's actually going to cost you another £220 a year, and that's just for the developer plan (<8 hour SLA).
So if you need to get support for
"Why have I been charged for X?"
that's fine. But if you need support for:
"I've been unable to access any of my Azure Web Sites within the
portal all day. I can't deploy nor can I create any new sites. I've
checked your service status and apparently there are no outages"
(and yes this happened today) then prepare to get your wallet out. Unfortunately even paying for support doesn't guarantee you'll actually get it.
Last week my startup Fabrik had an outage. The cause was that we had breached our spending limit (ultimately our fault) but unfortunately were not notified of the fact until Azure had disabled our service. When I brought our cloud service back up we had a new IP address meaning it instantly broke over 80 of our customers' websites who were using their own domain (we need to support naked domains, hence why their DNS was pointing to the cloud service IP).
When this happened my first point of call was Azure support to see if we were able to get our IP address back. On realizing that my "included" support didn't actually count for very much I upgraded my support plan so I could log my very urgent "technical issue".
4 days later I received a reply from Azure Technical Support.
Now it's bad enough that we have to pay extra for something that is included with most other hosting providers but the fact that it took this amount of time to get a response was totally unacceptable.
I'd like to add that Microsoft have now refunded the cost of my support plan upgrade but it's hardly the point.
Imagine your reaction if you were about to buy a new car only to find that it came without a warranty or support of any kind. If the car was significantly cheaper than other cars, fair enough - you can choose to take that risk. But if the car was more expensive than others, would you still be standing in the showroom?
I really hope the Windows Azure team fix their support offering and provide Azure customers with the support they need by default, not as an optional extra.