On Monday, during the kickoff of Microsoft's Worldwide Partner Conference being held this week in Washington D.C., Microsoft announced that it would be releasing a version of its Windows Azure cloud computing platform that can be run as part of an appliance offering.
The appliance name may be a bit misleading though -- Microsoft's Azure Appliance is not your standard single server appliance. The appliance configuration is best geared for internal deployments of around 1,000 servers or so, said Bob Muglia, president of the Microsoft server and tools business.
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"Our initial [deliveries] of the Windows Azure to our first four customers will just be under a thousand servers" each, he said. The company could scale future deployments down to smaller offerings, though at a certain point it would become more economical for an organization to use the Azure services offered by another provider.
"Windows Azure is designed to run on thousands of nodes at a time. Its core value is survivability of node failures and you need to have a significant number of nodes beneath it," wrote Forrester analyst James Staten, in a blog post about the offering.
In a press conference following the announcement of this technology, Muglia revealed a bit more of how Azure would work, though Microsoft is still sorting out many of the details, such as pricing and whether there will be numbered versions.
The appliance version will contain copies of Windows Azure, Microsoft SQL Azure and a set of configuration tools and will be run on large packages of servers and supporting equipment. Dell, Fujitsu and Hewlett-Packard all pledged to offer versions of this appliance, built on their own hardware.
Once settled in the data center, the appliance will be connected to Microsoft's own instance of Azure. "We will maintain a flow of new software down to all of the appliances so they will be kept up to date," he said, adding that the customer will retain control over factors such as when to apply updates and which services to deploy.
Muglia said that while the company will make available its hardware specifications for the Azure appliance software package, Microsoft doesn't expect it to be as widely implemented as Windows Server, which was designed for as wide a range of server hardware as possible.
"One of the things that allows [Azure] at the scale that we do is to automate many of the processes that today are done by hand. In order to do this automation, we have to have a fair degree of understanding of the hardware environment. So there will be a more limited set of hardware we support," Muglia said.
In terms of making the Azure services compatible with Microsoft stand-alone software products, "Our goal is to make Azure as compatible as we realistically can. Now the cloud environment does bring differences, particularly in dealing with scaling out as a fundamental attribute of the application, which means some applications will need to be modified as they become a truly native Azure application," he said.