Azure Cloud Appliance Unveiled by Microsoft

Also, Microsoft now loves Linux.

Azure-in-a-Box was the highlight of the day at a Microsoft press event, but there was also news for virtualization admins, including a new virtual machine (VM) offering that Microsoft says has the largest capacity available in the public cloud.

The big announcement was a new partnership with Dell Inc. to integrate Microsoft Azure, Windows Server and System Center with the Texas-based computer maker's hardware. The resulting on-premises cloud appliance was dubbed the Microsoft Cloud Platform System (CPS).

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

This Has Happened Before
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 a 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 [Platform-as-a-Service] cloud exclusively, and now it's not."

'It Has to Deliver'
Microsoft can't afford to get this cloud appliance wrong, said Forrester analyst John R. Rymer, who was also at the event. "[Microsoft's] first one was way too big and way too early," he said. "But [the company has] drawn a line in the sand here, and [it has] 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," he said. "Microsoft loves Linux!" He added that 20 percent of Azure is already Linux.

"This isn't news, but what's noteworthy is that [Microsoft] 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."

Support for CoreOS
Microsoft is expanding its recently announced partnership with Docker Inc., 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.

Azure G-Series: The Largest VMs Available
Microsoft also unveiled the new Azure G-series of VMs. The G-series of VMs are powered by Intel Xeon processors and will be the largest VMs available in the public cloud, Guthrie said, providing twice the memory of the largest Amazon Web Services 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 Inc. and Hortonworks Inc. 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 K. Waters is the editor in chief of a number of sites, with a focus on high-end development, AI and future tech. He's been writing about cutting-edge technologies and culture of Silicon Valley for more than two decades, and he's written more than a dozen books. He also co-scripted the documentary film Silicon Valley: A 100 Year Renaissance, which aired on PBS.  He can be reached at [email protected].


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