Hire a new marketing team
This may seem unconstructive, but I see no hope that Azure's marketing team as it is right now could be beneficial in any way.
Two primary reasons for this:
1. They engage in borderline false advertising: when compute time is measured in seconds, minutes or hours, it's generally understood that this is with time sharing in mind; that is, if my code occupies the CPU for 120 seconds, and the rate is 12 cents per hour, then I pay 1 cent. Sounds pretty reasonable. No one in their right mind bills by the hour a service that's normally in use for months or years on end.
Whether this is legal or not, I don't know, but it's certainly an easy way to both lose customers as well as hurt Microsoft as a whole.
2. The choice of names and words that they choose is extremely opaque and scares away customers. I read the FAQ a few months ago, but it was when last week someone explained to me what Azure was that I finally became interested in it. I've already got a somewhat-working application going and I _still_ don't know the difference between Azure and Azure Platform, SQL Azure and SQL Azure Database, Fabric and AppFabric, and cloud service and web hosting.
I doubt that this suggestion will ever reach the higher-ups, but there really needs to be a shift in the balance of authority at Microsoft's project teams. It's not any particular problems with any products that's wrecking the company; it's the messy marketing.
I wish I could vote for this one too. Here are some specific examples of how I find the Windows Azure marketing to be misleading:
"Consume computing resources ONLY when the needs arise."
There is no need for an idle server to consume computing resources. For all practical purposes, a web role could be shut-down in between requests. A worker role could be shut-down instead of sleeping while waiting for new work. I think this should have read: "Quickly add new computing resources when the needs arise."
"This offer is a “Pay As You Go” pricing plan that includes compute hours..."
There is a huge difference between using the term "compute hours" and what is really meant, which is "instance hours." You don't pay for the time that your code is computing; you pay for the time that your instances are running. In fact, you pay for more than that. You ACTUALLY pay for the time that your instances are provisioned. As the OP noticed, it would be uncommon that the number of instances provisioned to run your service would change hourly. So why bill hourly?
David Bennell commented
I fell for this one too and even got laughed at in a seminar when I asked if it was billed by computation time, I guess how you read it depends if you’re used to dealing with or even knowing the total CPU usage time for your processes, that combined with being told the cloud was a large virtual resource pool and you just pay for what you use, and one of the things you pay for is “CPU Hours”
David Burrell commented
Yea, we will really loose this Cloud battle if we keep pricing at a premium. I almost had a University interested, but then we ran the numbers and well, they turned down the idea to even try Azure.
I don't agree with the assertion that there is false advertising involved but I do agree that the branding, marketing, and presentation of Azure is terrible and that the brilliant technical functionality is wrapped up in such horrible nomenclature as to make it nearly impossible for even experienced professional .NET devs to wrap their heads around.
The pricing model debacle is symptomatic of the marketing failure. It was the job of the marketing team to understand customer needs, expectations, and price/value assesments and to construct a pricing model based on that research. The customer feedback has been absolutely consistent and absolutely clear. Your pricing model is not even close to competitive with Amazon. We'd love to use Azure, but we can't because the price premium you are charging for an untested service over a known successful service is simply too far beyond what even the most dedicated fanboy could justify.
The Azure technical team deserves to be supported by a marketing team of similar quality to it's architects and API designers. It is really, really painful to see this fantastic technology and know that it's being dragged down by consistent failures on the marketing front. I've personally ported a 100K+ line custom built C# application to Azure (total time to port ~20 hours) and I doubt if it will ever run in the cloud simply because the Azure pricing model is so absurdly far from competitive with Amazon's pricing.