The pace at which we release new features in Windows Azure is amazing. I heard an interview with Scott Guthrie this summer where he said that right now we are on a cadence of releasing major functionality to the platform every three weeks! In the cloud we don’t have any beta programs or release candidates but we have Previews. So what is a preview and how does it differ from the services in production?
If you read the legal documents that we publish on WindowsAzure.com it states that We may make available Previews. That’s a good start! Then the text continues with PREVIEWS ARE PROVIDED "AS-IS," "WITH ALL FAULTS," AND "AS AVAILABLE," AND ARE EXCLUDED FROM THE SLAS AND LIMITED WARRANTY.
So, everything that we label as being in Preview is a pre-release of a service that might come in the future. Might come in the future since we also say: We may change or discontinue Previews at any time without notice. We also may choose not to release a Preview into "General Availability."
The full section about previews can be found in section 1.h in the Windows Azure Agreement.
Services in preview might also have different pricing then services in production. For instance Windows Azure Backup is currently in preview. In the Backup service we charge for backup based on the amount of data stored and these prices includes a 50% preview discount. Other services might be completely free during preview.
What should I use preview for?
Well, that decision you always have to make for yourself.
Would I put my only backup of critical data in a service in preview? – No.
Would I run mission critical software on a service in preview? – No.
Would I use services in preview during development and testing? – Yes!
Would I be a good Windows Azure community citizen and provide constructive feedback while using the service in preview? – Yes, sir!
Would I promise myself to keep me updated on what happens to the preview service that I use so that I can adapt to changes easily? Oh, yes!
Okay, all sounds cool! I want to try something new but where to I find it?
Some of the services that are in preview are available to everybody without the need to do anything. For instance the Windows Azure Web Sites have been in production since June 2013 but right now there is a scale feature, inside the Windows Azure Web Sites, that is in preview.
There are also completely new features that are in preview. These might be available to everybody or they might be limited access. Either way you have to request access via the WindowsAzure.com. Then there are also services that are in private preview but that is out of scope for this post.