Microsoft has finally, and unsurprisingly, bowed to customer and partner pressure to make its Windows Azure platform-as-a-service (PaaS) offering available outside of its own data centers via the Windows Azure Platform Appliance (WAPA). This is a good, but at present still very tentative, move in the right direction.
More than an appliance
The concept of appliance is mostly used in relation to software-plus-hardware offerings that are simple to use and implement, and target small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs). In contrast, WAPA targets the very high end of the market, with the first deployments of the appliance starting at about 1,000 servers.
It combines Microsoft services (Windows Azure and SQL Azure) with third-party built, but Microsoft specified, data centre hardware platforms that mix network, storage, and compute resources. These integrated platforms are the latest in infrastructure vendors ongoing efforts to deliver packaged offerings that are easier to manage and consume (with single invoice, installation, and support structure).
A win-win proposition
WAPA enables Microsoft to expand its ecosystem of hardware and service partners to counter VMwares ambitions in this domain. Long-time Windows supporters Dell, HP, and Fujitsu are the first partners to produce the underlying WAPA hardware platform. Others will follow.
Microsoft will be able to create a mid-way solution between its on-premise Windows Server environment and its online Windows Azure service environment. WAPA can be used as a platform for public clouds (to start with) as well as private clouds (later on, once the concept has been finalized), and every type of hybrid cloud in between. It is distinct from the private cloud-related offerings announced at the same time as WAPA, namely:
- the System Center Virtual Machine Manager Self Service Portal (SSP) 2.0, a free, partner-extensible portal that enables private cloud based on Windows Server, Hyper-V, and System Center
- the Private Cloud Deployment Kit, which provides systems integrators with prescriptive guidance for selling and implementing private clouds based on SSP, Hyper-V, Windows Server, and System Center.
WAPA also enables Microsoft to create a Windows Azure intercloud that consists of its own data centers as well as the data centers of its partners and customers. It will take time for these data centers to be interconnected, but when this happens partners and customers will be able to exchange Windows Azure resources in the same that way phone and utilities companies currently swap resources. VMware is also doing the same thing, but the one to catch up with at this level is Google, whose worldwide data centre (and network) infrastructure is second to none.
Microsoft partners will be able to expand the range of Azure-based PaaS and SaaS offerings, as well as Azure-related services (e.g. migration to/from public/private clouds), not just hardware. The ability to run Windows Azure in their own data centre has been one of their key requests to Microsoft ever since the initial announcement of Azure at the end of 2008.
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