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Microsoft Partners with Dell on New 'Cloud in a Box'

Microsoft made several announcements at a press event today about its cloud products, including a new partnership with Dell to integrate Azure, Windows Server and Microsoft Systems Center with the Texas-based computer maker's hardware. The resulting on-premises cloud appliance, dubbed the Microsoft Cloud Platform System (CPS), will provide "Azure-consistent cloud in a box," the company said.

Microsoft expects the new appliance to bring Azure into its customer's existing datacenters, said Scott Guthrie, EVP of Microsoft's cloud and enterprise group. The first appliances will be available beginning next month, he said.

This isn't Microsoft's first attempt at creating a cloud appliance, observed GigaOM Research Analyst Andrew Brust, who attended the briefing. When the company launched the Windows Azure Platform in 2008, then-CEO Steve Ballmer promised a similar hardware/software combo. "It finally came out after numerous delays," Brust recalled. "But it turned out that it was really best for managed hosting providers, like Fujitsu and couple of others. And ultimately it fizzled."

But those were early days for the cloud, Brust said. "It makes much more sense now," he said. "The markets are mature, customers have a greater sense of what they need, and back then, Azure was a PaaS cloud exclusively, and now it's not."

Microsoft can't afford to get this cloud appliance wrong, said Forrester Analyst John R. Rymer, who was also at the event. "Their first one was way too big and way too early," he said. "But they've drawn a line in the sand here, and they have to deliver.

CEO Satya Nadella prefaced the announcements with an impassioned attempt to "define the uniqueness of our approach," and to clarify the company's vision, which embraces "the mobility of the individual experience more than just the device."

"We are well and truly in this mobile-first, cloud-first world," he said.

Nadella also took several minutes to emphasize Microsoft's cloud agnosticism, especially when it comes to Linux. "I want to drill this home," Nadella said. "Microsoft loves Linux!" He added that 20 percent of Azure is already Linux-based.

"This isn't news, but what's noteworthy is that they articulated it," Brust said. "This has been a Nadella/Guthrie thing since Scott was in Jason [Zander]'s job and Satya was in Scott's job. They've been pushing very hard on the agnosticism of the cloud, and they weren't necessarily in the majority there for a long time, but they kept pushing. And I think it has led to a turning point for Azure. I travel in a lot of non-Microsoft circles these days. Nine months ago, nobody had heard of Azure. Suddenly it's now part of the conversation."

Microsoft is expanding its recently announced partnership with Docker, Guthrie said, to provide Azure support for CoreOS, the container-optimized Linux distribution. The company already supports CentOS, Oracle Linux and SUSE.

"We think this container-based approach helps dramatically with the creation of next-generation applications and enables them to be deployed more efficiently," Guthrie said.

Microsoft also unveiled the new Azure G-series of virtual machines. The G-series of VMs are powered by Intel Xeon processors and will be the largest VMs available in the public cloud, Guthrie said, and will provide twice the memory of the largest Amazon cloud machine.

The company also announced a new Azure marketplace of VMs, apps and services to help ISVs and startups to monetize their businesses. Cloudera and Hortonworks are among the vendors represented in the new marketplace, Guthrie said.

Microsoft is currently attracting about 10,000 new customers daily to Azure, Nadella said, and now stores 30 trillion objects.

About the Author

John has been covering the high-tech beat from Silicon Valley and the San Francisco Bay Area for nearly two decades. He serves as Editor-at-Large for Application Development Trends (www.ADTMag.com) and contributes regularly to Redmond Magazine, The Technology Horizons in Education Journal, and Campus Technology. He is the author of more than a dozen books, including The Everything Guide to Social Media; The Everything Computer Book; Blobitecture: Waveform Architecture and Digital Design; John Chambers and the Cisco Way; and Diablo: The Official Strategy Guide.

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