While Microsoft shops have been able to build their own private Azure-like clouds, based on the Windows Azure Pack, since late 2013, "build" has been the operative word. Now the Microsoft Azure cloud stack is available off the shelf, so to speak, in a 2,000-pound mountain of hardware Microsoft calls its Cloud Platform System, aka "Azure-consistent Cloud in a Box."
The bundle includes a rack full of Dell hardware -- PowerEdge servers, storage, and networking -- along with Windows Server 2012 R2, System Center R2 2012, and the Azure Pack, with anywhere from 32 to 128 compute nodes in the entire stack, and up to 32TB of RAM and 1.1PB of storage. In theory, you could build this entire stack by hand, but you doesn't have to. Instead, you can buy it as a single unit, with Dell and Microsoft each supporting their respective ends of the equation.
What's Microsoft really pushing with this new bundle? Not only a turnkey hybrid cloud solution, but package designed to be the physical embodiment of the company's experiences running Azure at scale. An official Microsoft blog post describes the Cloud Platform System as a system that "brings all our learnings running Azure to your data center" and "Microsoft-designed architecture based on public cloud learning." In short, Microsoft wants you to believe it's selling its firsthand expertise building Azure.
Compare this all-in-one, expertise-included approach with the latest edition of another hybrid cloud solution, RackConnect (version 3), recently announced by Rackspace. Rather than buy an entire stack-and-rack solution, the customer purchases a specific piece of network hardware, either an F5 BIG-IP Local Traffic Manager or a Cisco ASA firewall. This device is then used to connect local infrastructure to Rackspace's cloud for a variety of scenarios, from low-end e-commerce use cases to more elaborate enterprise app-server setups. Rackspace's solution isn't as involved or costly, but it's not meant to be a consistent end-to-end product; the private cloud portion is more or less your job.
Microsoft's "don't go it alone" message might resonate with those who have worked with other hybrid solution stacks -- VMware, HP, Red Hat -- each based either on their proprietary offerings or on open source solutions. The trick isn't only to get up and running, but to run it well, and Microsoft wants its customers to feel they won't be forced to discover the nuances on their own.
There's little question that users hunger for simplified hybrid clouds, especially since so few of them involve a straightforward turnkey solution. But the larger question becomes whether those who want to deploy a hybrid cloud will turn to Microsoft to do it -- even if Microsoft offers an all-in-one solution from the hardware on up.