While you may already have special purposes appliances in your datacenter for tasks such as email filtering, anti-virus, storage, or a host of other narrowly focused needs, Microsoft is now asking you to take a different look at the appliance in the datacenter concept, by making the datacenter itself the appliance.
As Mary-Jo Foley talks about in her coverage of the Microsoft announcement, Microsoft has launched their Azure web platform as a complete, pre-configured containerized datacenter from a selection of hardware vendors. Customers will be able to either have their container hosted by the hardware vendor, or, if their business demands it, and their facilities support it, bring the container to their own site.
And as Larry Dignan points out, the primary competitor for Azure is likely to be VMware's vSphere, but Microsoft is playing this market in a very different way. By offering a turnkey container to provide web services, that the large enterprise customer can bring onsite, Microsoft is addressing the two biggest concerns of enterprise IT about the cloud; security and data control. If the business needs it this cloud approach means that information need never leave their own datacenter or networks.
Taking this hybrid hardware software approach should get Microsoft a lot of traction in the high-dollar enterprise market that is focused on dealing with these issues as well as the huge amount of regulatory compliance that needs to be dealt with. It also gives them leverage to use against their competitors in the cloud computing space and has the potential to move them from catch-up to front runner, at least in the "private" cloud market.
With the announcement that eBay plans to invest in the Azure container model and bring the containers on site it is likely that other major online service providers will do the same thing, especially if eBay is able to rapidly integrate the Azure platform and add services and capabilities that expand their current business model. This kind of traction has the potential to make Microsoft a serious cloud player across the board.
With HP, Dell, and Fujitsu already on board to provide pre-configured Azure containers, Microsoft has got the hardware muscle it needs to deliver services from Azure to the cloud. A few significant large scale Azure success stories, driven by this containerized datacenter model could be all it will take for Microsoft to be in a position to be contending for the leadership in cloud operating systems