In its early days, the Azure TCO calculator was reported as having some issues.  In particular, there were claims that it massively overestimated VMware vSphere on-premises costs.  At this point in time, however, the TCO calculator has moved out of “Preview” (or at least is no longer labeled as such) and it is now certified by Nucleus Research, which states that the Azure TCO calculator offers “calculations that generate a fair assessment of actual value a customer may achieve given the data entered.”

So, what exactly is the Azure TCO calculator for?

The Azure TCO calculator may not be perfect, but it appears to be reasonable.

As with most tools of this nature, this should not be taken as an exact statement of the total cost of ownership of your Azure services, but current feedback is that it does give a reasonable estimation of what you can expect to pay to use Microsoft Azure.

The Azure TCO calculator starts with an assessment of your current situation.

You start by inputting details of your current servers, databases, storage and networking.  While that sentence is brief, it’s worth noting that the time needed to input this information accurately may be very lengthy.

For example, under servers, you (currently) have to give details of workload, environment, operating system, server number, processes per server, cores per process, RAM (GB), necessary optimization, GPU and whether or not they are Windows Server 2008/2008R2.

For databases, it’s (currently): source database type, license type, environment, operating system, servers, processes per server, cores per process, RAM (GB), optimization type and whether or not they are SQL Server 2008/2008R2 plus destination service, maximum DB size and maximum concurrent logins.

The good news is that the options for storage and network are much more limited.  The bad news is that you may need to repeat this process multiple times to accommodate different options in your local setup. 

The even worse news is that, for some strange reason, the Azure TCO calculator lacks the ability to save a session and come back to it later.  On the plus side, there’s no sign of sessions timing out either, so you can just leave the browser window open, just make sure to keep it open or you may find yourself crying into your coffee at having to input all the data again.

In fairness to Microsoft Azure, their approach does force you to gather the data that, one way or another, you’re probably going to need.  It would just be nice if they would add the option to save a session.

The Azure TCO calculator then provides assumptions you probably need to review

One of the interesting quirks of the Azure TCO calculator is that the page of assumptions starts with every option in full detail and then goes on to give a list of headings that you need to expand to review properly.  According to Microsoft, these headings “typically require less adjustment by customers”.  That’s fine, but there’s a difference between “less” and “none” so you do need to click on each heading and make any changes you feel necessary.

The Azure TCO calculator provides very “management-friendly” reports.

You have to hand it to Microsoft, they understand the business-to-business environment and they specifically understand that decisions about IT management and operations are often taken by (or at least with input from) people who really know little to nothing about IT but do understand finance and do appreciate pretty graphs, charts and other visuals summarizing key information in an easy-to-understand format. 

Microsoft certainly delivers here, but to be fair, the report it creates is much more than just a bunch of pretty pictures.  It does offer the option to dive down into the finest detail, so you can see exactly how it has valued your current infrastructure costs and compare them with what it expects you to use in Azure services.

The reports can be downloaded, shared and exported. Alternatively, you can go back to adjust your assumptions or even back again to adjust your initial data if, for some reason, you suddenly discover that you made a mistake when you entered it.  In fact, you may even wish to do both so you have the chance to play about with the various assumptions.

Assumptions are at the heart of the Azure TCO calculator.

The “workloads” page is really just a statement of fact.  The assumptions page, in spite of the name, is essentially a page of recommendations from Microsoft Azure and, quite bluntly, from Microsoft’s perspective, they’re a balancing act between demonstrating how much you could save by using Azure services and maximizing the profit they make by upselling Azure services. 

This is why you should probably take the results of the Azure TCO calculator, not exactly with a pinch of salt, but more as a starting point of experimentation and negotiation or as a basis from which to try out different options, which you can then export for easy comparison and, if necessary, further discussion with relevant managers.