Microsoft is cutting prices for many of its Azure services and revamping how it charges for many of its services, the company said during its TechEd North America 2013 keynote in New Orleans.

Azure no longer charges for stopped virtual machines. When a customer stops using one, billing stops. Before, in order to stop the charges customers had to delete the virtual machine. So developers can stop VMs when they go home at night or take the weekend off, or put testing on hold while revising code.

Billing is by the minute rather than by the hour. Before, use of Azure services for an hour and a half meant a bill for two hours. Now it will be for 90 minutes.

Scott Guthrie, Microsoft's Azure vice president, says the rates are particularly cost effective for development testing that requires an ever-shifting range of resources, and other new services are being extended to them.

Azure now offers server licenses at no charge to Microsoft Developer Network (MSDN) members. This includes SharePoint, Visual Studio, Microsoft SQL Server and Microsoft BizTalk Sever. The servers can be installed on any VM in Windows Azure, Guthrie says and members can deploy pre-created virtual machine images available within the Azure portal.

MSDN subscribers also get special rates for running servers within Azure, with discounts more than 97% over current pricing for some of them.

The rates apply to any number of virtual machines within Azure so long as they are used for development testing.

MSDN subscribers also get monthly credits that increase with the level of membership. The credits range from $50 per month to $150 per month and can be used on any Azure resource in any combination the customer wants. The credits are extended to individuals, so every member of a development team gets the same number of credits.

As an example, a premium member could run three VMs for 16 hours per day for 31 days with the $100 credit. The Azure management portal has been updated to show how many of the credits have been used so far in the month, and projects how long they will last if used at the current rate.

Current MSDN subscribers can activate the new rates and credits here.

Azure is also running a sweepstakes for an Aston Martin. MSDN subscribers who register for the new rates and deploy one website or VM before Oct. 1 are eligible for the random drawing for the car. Details are here.

Tim Greene covers Microsoft and unified communications for Network World and writes the Mostly Microsoft blog. Reach him at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter @Tim_Greene.