AWS offers free Windows on EC2 (kind of)

Amazon(s amzn) will let customers run free micro-instances of Microsoft(s msft) Windows 2008 R2 on its EC2 service starting now, according to a new post to the Amazon Web Services (AWS) blog.

Such try-before-you-buy tactics have helped Amazon win converts to its cloud platform by letting them test new or existing applications in its cloud for free. While Amazon offers a choice of operating systems, Microsoft licensing constraints have made running Windows workloads on AWS more expensive than running them on Linux.

In his post, Amazon Web Services Evangelist Jeff Barr wrote:

The micro instances provide a small amount of consistent processing power and the ability to burst to a higher level of usage from time to time. You can use this instance to learn about Amazon EC2, support a development and test environment, build an AWS application, or host a web site (or all of the above). We’ve fine-tuned the micro instances to make them even better at running Microsoft Windows Server.

The AWS Free Usage Tier has, until now, let customers run small instances of Linux or other Amazon services for free for 750 hours per month as a way to let customers kick the tires of its cloud-based services. The “micro instances” for 32- or 64-bit  Linux and now Windows can utilize 613 MB of memory. Customers can use the free usage tier for a year, according to Amazon.

Users of this free usage tier have access to Amazon S3, Elastic Block Store, Elastic Load Balancing and AWS data transfer services. The new Windows Server free usage instances are available across AWS regions, except for the GovCloud.

This news comes at an interesting time. Amazon’s popular Infrastructure-as-a-Service and Microsoft’s(s msft) Azure Platform-as-a-Service are increasingly competing: Amazon is adding more PaaS-like capabilities and Microsoft is working on IaaS capabilities like its promised VM role. Both companies plan web briefings this week on their cloud strategies: Microsoft has a webcast slated for Tuesday; Amazon hosts one on Wednesday.

As more companies weigh putting workloads onto public or private clouds, hold on for more competitive moves by these cloud giants.

Photo courtesy of  Flickr user liber