Microsoft's newly-announced Windows Azure and the online platform it anchors will ship in the second half of 2009 and the pricing will be based a set of usage metrics.

The information is contained on the Azure website which reiterates that Azure will be free during its Community Technology Preview cycle but once it is available for commercial use, users will be billed based on the amount of resources they consume. Microsoft will break down consumption based on platform services and on specific utilisation measurements.

Microsoft said that Azure would be available through the Microsoft Online Customer Portal and through independent software vendors when users purchase an ISV application that uses the Azure Services Platform. Users that go through an ISV will pay based on that ISV's licensing and pricing model.

According to the site: CPU time will be measured in CPU hours; bandwidth for ingress/egress from the Microsoft data centre will be measured in gigabytes, as will storage usage; and transactions will be measured as requests like Gets and Puts.

Platform usage measurements will break down by sections: Windows Azure will be billed based on compute and storage services; .Net Services on access control, service bus and/or workflow services; SQL Services on database services for line-of-business applications; and SharePoint, which won't be in the initial Azure rollout, will be charged based on components developers use and build into their applications.

In addition, Dell announced that it would exclusively provide the hardware that would run the Azure cloud operating system. Dell will provide a highly customised version of its rack-mounted data centre hardware.