As a student, you've probably already heard of Microsoft DreamSpark and the free software you can get through the program. In case you haven't, let's just have a quick look at Microsoft DreamSpark before getting you free access to Microsoft's cloud services platform: Microsoft Azure.
To quote the DreamSpark website: "DreamSpark is a Microsoft Program that supports technical education by providing access to Microsoft software for learning, teaching and research purposes.". This means that during your study you get to use all the awesome software Microsoft provides for free without restrictions as long as it's for learning, teaching and research purposes.
Getting access to the software is a bit tricky though. For instance, there are two "versions" of Microsoft DreamSpark. There is dreamspark.com, where you can get access to a limited number of Microsoft products, but there's also a good chance that your faculty is offering access to a separate DreamSpark library.
In this library you'll be able to find a more diverse catalogue of software that is available to you free of charge. Whether or not that last option is available for you depends on your university faculty.
Getting your Microsoft Azure subscription
To get Microsoft Azure however, you just need to register as a student on dreamspark.com. After you've gone through the verification process, go to the software catalog tab and scroll down to Servers & Applications. You should be able to find "Microsoft Azure for DreamSpark" there. If you don't or if you simply want to skip all these steps, simply click here to navigate to the product.
If you've successfully registered at Microsoft DreamSpark, the "register now" button should be available to you. Click it. You should be redirected to the Microsoft Azure signup page. Fill out the necessary details and continue to finish your registration. Don't worry if you have to enter a payment method, this is only going to be used when either you use an Azure service that is not included in your free subscription or when Microsoft needs to verify your identity.
"So I've got my Azure subscription, now what can I do?"
Actually, a lot, but not too much. While you're not be able to rent a virtual machine or basically anything that can be considered "too expensive to be free", you're able to create at least the following as of October 2015:
- Web Apps
- Joomla installations
- MySQL Databases
- Team Projects
- Application Insights
If you're into mobile development everything in this list (except for Joomla) is going to make you very, very happy. With Web Apps and a MySQL Database you're able to create your very own JSON API in Node.js, for example. You can host the code for the API and/ or your mobile app in your own Git or TFVC (Team Foundation Version Control) repository using the Team Projects feature. It's also possible to get insights and statistics on how users are using your application with Application Insights, so that you can finally finish that Mobile Analytics report you've been postponing for a while now.
The possibilities are endless
But in the end, you're only limited to your imagination. Web Apps support a variety of solutions. You can publish everything from Java .WAR files to Node.js projects and even plain old static HTML files. Personally, I really like the option to run Node.js in the Microsoft cloud, but I also appreciate the option to deploy a Java .WAR file very much as it saved one of my university projects one time when the university deployment server experienced an outage. Basically, what I'm trying to say is that no matter the nature of your project, there's a pretty good chance that at least something in the Microsoft Azure for DreamSpark subscription is going to help you to get the most out of your projects.
Next time, I'm going to write about how to set up an authenticated JSON API based on Node.js hosted in Microsoft Azure with continuous deployment from a public GitHub repository enabled.
FYI: Maybe you already noticed this while glancing over the software catalog, but I feel it's important to note that GitHub also has a special offer for students. It's called the GitHub Student Developer Pack and you can get it for free either though dreamspark.com or the official GitHub education page.