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Coming This Fall: Windows Azure Cloud Appliances

Addressing one of the key objectives of cloud computing, Microsoft today said its Windows Azure platform will be available as an appliance that can run on customer and partner premises.

The company revealed plans to offer the Windows Azure Appliance at its Worldwide Partner Conference, which began today in Washington, D.C. The appliance, which Microsoft has talked up conceptually for several months, will be offered later this year by key partners -- initially Dell, Fujitsu and Hewlett-Packard Co. The appliance will enable private clouds based on huge turnkey systems equipped with the Windows Azure platform, server, storage and network infrastructure. eBay said it too will use the appliance.

"The Windows Azure appliance fundamentally takes the Windows Azure service and extends it," said Bob Muglia, president of Microsoft's Server and Tools business, speaking in the opening keynote of WPC. "It extends it to our service providers, allowing you to have exactly the same capabilities within your data center, providing that capability to your customers, and it can be extended to our larger customers that want to provide IT services within their own organizations."

Details of the new appliance were vague, including cost, configuration and how they will be rolled out to customers. Muglia did say the new appliance is based on Windows Azure and SQL Azure with hardware specified by Microsoft, allowing service providers to either offer their own hosted Azure-based services or provision the appliances initially to large data center customers on-premise. The availability of such private cloud implementations addresses issues of control and compliance that have made cloud computing unfeasible to many corporate and government customers.

"The benefits are associated with control, compliance and keeping the data locally, data sovereignty. These are important benefits that allow for much more extensive solutions being built around this cloud environment," Muglia said.

For eBay, the appliance will ease deployment without moving its huge auction and PayPal payment processing service off premises. "If I want to deploy an application today for eBay.com within my data centers I need to secure the hardware, provision a network, hook up the load balancer and make it part of the infrastructure," said James Barrese, eBay's VP of Technology, speaking at a press conference following the keynote.

Dell, Fujitsu and HP will all offer the appliances later this year, based on pre-defined hardware specifications by Microsoft. The hardware vendors said they see opportunities for both offering hosting services to customers as well as selling systems to very large enterprises such as government agencies and large corporations.

Though the companies are not discussing the configurations, the initial implementations will house just shy of 1,000 servers, Muglia said. One partner that appeared totally surprised by the launch of the appliance was Harry Zarek, CEO of Compugen in Toronto. When confronted on camera by Jon Roskill, the new Corporate VP for Microsoft's Worldwide Partner Group said, "We have been a Microsoft partner for 20 years, having gone through the traditional product resale and service support. We had a fear that this business was going to trickle through our hands and move into the data center. We had a big question what we would be left with. This is the missing link, this is the piece we need to give us the destination over the next few years, in the cloud, and we have an important role to play."

Muglia said the cloud has forced Microsoft to reinvent itself and will require its partners to do the same. It's a change that is inevitable, it is a change that allows us all to deliver new value, it's a change that thankfully is not happening overnight, and it is a change we will embrace together," he said.

About the Author

Jeffrey Schwartz is editor of Redmond magazine and also covers cloud computing for Virtualization Review's Cloud Report. In addition, he writes the Channeling the Cloud column for Redmond Channel Partner. Follow him on Twitter @JeffreySchwartz.

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