Cloud fever at Microsoft with Windows Azure appliance

Washington, D.C. – At its annual Worldwide Partner Conference, Microsoft Corp. (NASDAQ: MSFT) shocked no one with its full commitment to cloud computing, but the software giant did manage to surprise many of the 9,000-plus channel partners in attendance with the announcement of a Windows Azure appliance.

Company CEO Steve Ballmer said that many channel partners are embracing the cloud and its potential to streamline operations. “There is still a lot of work to do with the cloud for partners, but there is no question the path is clear and inevitable. Microsoft is embracing that path,” Ballmer said.

Ballmer’s proclamation, while not surprising anymore, is a shift for the Microsoft, which have been preaching the Software+Services model for the past three years.

As an example of Microsoft’s new-found commitment to the cloud, the company announced a Windows Azure appliance, which will be the first turnkey cloud services platform for deployment in data centres. The Azure appliance will have a standardized service platform that can be customized by solution providers in either a public or private cloud environment. The key to the Azure appliance is that partners can deploy cloud services with Microsoft, a service provider in an on premise data centre or a combination of all three, said Bob Muglia, president of the Server and Tools Business at Microsoft. The appliance will also contain SQL Azure.

Muglia also unveiled Project Dallas for the Azure appliance. Dallas is an information service for developers to access third-party data and Web services.

“Azure appliance has business continuity and multi-tenancy. The analogy is a set-top box with cable or satellite and the TV is a service from a provider. That service is delivered to you and is something that you don’t worry about. You turn it on and watch. You control the programs you watch or record. That’s exactly what we’re doing with the Azure appliance,” Muglia said.

One of Microsoft’s hardware partners, Dell Computer, will be one of the early adopters of the Azure appliance. Peter Altabef, the president of Dell Services, said his company’s cloud strategy will be to work with channel partners to create a Dell-powered Windows Azure platform for partners that will lead to end-user customers.

“The Azure appliance is revolutionary and we think channel partners will develop applications and will do it with Dell on Azure. They’ll be horizontal and industry vertical-based for healthcare, financial, telecom, manufacturing and others,” Altabef said.

James Barrese, Ebay‘s vice-president of technology, said the online auction site handles more than 75 billion SQL transactions per day and they need a robust technology platform. Ebay tested Azure appliance on many pilots on the public cloud and Barrese said they all went well. “Our strategy aligned with it and doing joint engineering with Microsoft on Azure helped us to get our infrastructure out there for the next generation cloud. Ebay will have the Azure appliance inside its data centre for better control.”

Barrese also said that Azure helped Ebay to experiment with its buying and selling community on new offerings. “We see it as a part of our quick deployment strategy because it automatically scales-out and its costs very little,” Barrese said.

“For every partner in the room, this means a new set of customers and the cloud helps us streamline operations for the customer. It’s mission No. 1 to take costs out of on-going operations on the maintenance of IT,” Ballmer said.

He added that Microsoft will invest more dollars in cloud, Azure and other online services that remove many IT costs and enable more value. “But the cloud also brings on a new set of responsibility. People will put their data on our systems and when a customer entrusts their data and operations to us, there’s a need to do a better job on reliability on security and privacy.”

Ballmer also made his case for smarter devices for the cloud. His statement goes against the grain in the industry which has been embracing thin clients in the last few years. “Time and again we’ve seen the advantage of rich clients. We see it with smart phones across the board. In the world of tomorrow, the smart cloud will talk to smart devices. We may disagree with competitors on smart clients, but the whole notion is as software comes down from the cloud and is executed locally users can take advantage of the intelligence of the OS and rich content is something consumers will want,” Ballmer said.

Having said that, Ballmer said that Microsoft will support thin clients such as VDI, but wants to drive smart devices.

Follow Paolo Del Nibletto on Twitter: @PaoloCDN.

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Paolo Del Nibletto
Paolo Del Nibletto
Former editor of Computer Dealer News, covering Canada's IT channel community.

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