Microsoft Corp. is offering Windows Azure customers an alternative way to send data to the company’s cloud storage – via FedEx. On Monday, Microsoft announced the availability of a hard drive import-export service that enables customers to store data in encrypted hard drives and have them transported to and from their Azure storage accounts.

Microsoft said offline delivery can be a faster and cheaper solution to moving large amounts of on-premise data into the Azure Blob especially “in situations where uploading over the network is prohibitively expensive or not feasible.”

With the introduction of the offline data transfer Microsoft is catching up with rivals Google Inc. and Amazon Web Services which already offer similar services.

“We think you will find this new service makes it much easier to move data into and out of Windows Azure, and it will dramatically cut down the network bandwidth required when working on large data migration projects,” wrote Scott Guthrie, vice-president at Microsoft’s developer division in his recent blog.

Individuals and businesses that want to check out the service can click on this link.

He said the services provides support for disk encryption by BitLocker so that customers can encrypt data on the hard drives before they send it out to the Windows Azure data centre via FedEx delivery service.

Even if the disk is stolen or lost in transit, customer do not have to fear worry about the safety of the data in the device because only the user will have the key to the encrypted data, according to Guthrie.

“Once we receive the drives we’ll automatically transfer the data to or from your Windows Azure storage account,” he said. “This enables you to import or export massive amounts more quickly and cost effectively (and not be constrained by available network bandwidth).”

Microsoft is charging $40 per storage device for a limited preview period. There is no charge for data transfer between the device and Azure storage within the same data centre.

The service is being previewed in a few regions in the United States. Users in other countries will have to ship their drives to Azure-supported data centres in the U.S.

In its present form, the service supports 3.5-inch SATA II hard drives but not hard drive with capacities over 4TB. Currently only 10 drives can be processed per job.

 

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