Windows Azure Appliances are still in Microsoft's plans

Windows Azure Appliances are still in Microsoft's plans

Summary: Based on comments made by a Microsoft Server and Tools division exec this week, it seems the M.I.A. Windows Azure Appliances are still on the Microsoft roadmap.

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Microsoft and its server partners have been noticeably mum about Microsoft's planned Windows Azure Appliances, leading to questions as to whether Microsoft had changed its mind about the wisdom of providing customers with a private cloud in a box.

But based on comments made by a Microsoft Server and Tools division exec during his May 10 Jefferies Global Technology, Internet, Media & Telecom Conference presentation, it seems the Azure Appliances are still on the Microsoft roadmap.

In July 2010, Microsoft took the wraps off its plans for the Windows Azure Appliance, a kind of “private-cloud-in-a-box” available from select Microsoft partners. At that time, company officials said that OEMs including HP, Dell and Fujitsu would have Windows Azure Appliances in production and available to customers by the end of 2010. In January 2011, I checked in with Microsoft's announced Windows Azure Appliance partners, some of whom hinted there had been delays. In March, HP began giving off mixed signals as to whether it would offer an Azure-based appliance after all.

Cut to May 10. Charles Di Bona, a General Manager with Server and Tools, was asked by a Jeffries conference attendee about his perception of integrated appliances, such as the ones Oracle is pushing. Here's his response, from a transcript:

"I would hesitate to sort of comment on their (Oracle's) strategy. But, look, those appliances are very interesting offerings.  In some ways it's sort of presenting a large enterprise, obviously, where the footprint is big a large enterprise with a sort of cohesive package where they don't have to muck around with the inner workings, which in many ways is what the cloud does for a much broader audience.

"So, it's an interesting way of sort of appealing to that sort of very high end constituency, which is sort of the sweet spot of what Oracle has done the past, with a sort of integrated offering that replicates in many ways the future of the cloud. Now, we still believe that the public cloud offers certain capabilities, and certain efficiencies that an appliance, a scaled-up appliance like Exadata is not going to offer them, and we think that that's the long-term future of where things are going.  But it's an interesting way of appealing to that very high-end user now before they might feel comfortable going to the cloud."

At this point, I was thinking: Wow! Microsoft has decided to go all in with the public cloud and deemphasize the private cloud, even at the risk of hurting its Windows Server sales. I guess the moderator thought the same, as he subsequently asked, "Microsoft's approach is going to be more lean on that public cloud delivery model?"

Di Bona responded that the Windows Azure Appliances already are rolling out. (Are they? So far, I haven't heard any customers mentioned beyond EBay -- Microsoft's showcase Appliance customer from last summer.) Di Bona's exact words, from the transcript:

"Well, no, we've already announced about a year ago at this point that we've started to rollout some Windows Azure Appliances, Azure Appliances.They are early stage at this point.  But we think of the private cloud based on what we're doing in the public cloud, and the learnings we're getting from the public cloud, and sort of feeding that back into that appliance, which would be more of a private cloud.  It has some of the same characteristics of what Oracle is doing with Exadata.  So, we don't think of it as mutually exclusive, but we think that the learnings we're getting from the public cloud are different and unique in a way that they're not bringing into Exadata."

My take: There has been a shift inside Server and Tools, in terms of pushing more aggressively the ROI/savings/appeal of the public cloud than just a year ago. The Server and Tools folks know customers aren't going to move to the public cloud overnight, however, as Di Bona made clear in his remarks.

"(W)e within Server and Tools, know that Azure is our future in the long run. It's not the near-term future, the near-term future is still servers, right, that's where we monetize," he said. "But, in the very, very long run, Azure is the next instantiation of Server and Tools."

Microsoft execs told me a couple of months ago that the company would provide an update on its Windows Azure Appliance plans at TechEd '11, which kicks off on May 16 in Atlanta. Next week should be interesting....

Update (May 16): Microsoft officials didn't have much of an update at TechEd, after all. Server and Tools General Manager Amy Barzdukas told me today that Microsoft officials would have "more to say soon" about the Azure appliances. She said that all of Microsoft's announcement partners -- eBay, Dell, HP and Fujitsu -- are still onboard and were working with internal "limited production releases" at this time.

Barzdukas said Microsoft is expecting to provide new information before the Worldwide Partner Conference, which is in mid-July. When I asked whether there were technical problems delaying Microsoft and its partners from getting the appliances to market, Barzdukas said that wasn't the case.

Topics: Hardware, CXO, Cloud, Microsoft, Operating Systems, Servers, Software, Windows

About

Mary Jo has covered the tech industry for 30 years for a variety of publications and Web sites, and is a frequent guest on radio, TV and podcasts, speaking about all things Microsoft-related. She is the author of Microsoft 2.0: How Microsoft plans to stay relevant in the post-Gates era (John Wiley & Sons, 2008).

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6 comments
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  • Private clouds are the future, not public clouds

    I don't understand why people seem to think that whole scale migration to the public cloud is the future. Ancient industries like transportation and real estate (which can be used as predictors) generate the most revenue, and see the most activity, through transactions that take place around the private ownership of vehicles and properties. Plus the public cloud is rife with issues like security and privacy that will never go away. Plus an architecture of private clouds augmented with public cloud services, has the greatest survivability, when disasters of varied intensities and types strike consumers and businesses. (And disasters always strike.) As long as there is a free economy, I don't see anything close to a near whole scale shifting towards public cloud computing happening in the future.
    P. Douglas
    • RE: Windows Azure Appliances are still in Microsoft's plans

      @P. Douglas - there will always be "private clouds". Companies and individuals will buy their own servers and will house them under desks, in cupboards, in racks and in purpose-built, air-conditioned rooms. A private cloud is just business as usual.

      However, most companies don't have, and are not willing to invest in building, the staff with the skills and knowledge to build, support and maintain a stable, secure and performant 24x7x365 IT infrastructure.

      For these latter (vast majority) of scenarios, public cloud offerings available from a multitude of competent vendors is a great thing. Using the public cloud, smaller companies can now enjoy the kinds of up-time, security and performance that only the largest companies used to be able to attain, without having to spend a fortune to do so.
      bitcrazed
  • RE: Windows Azure Appliances are still in Microsoft's plans

    Microsoft has been advertising more job openings for the Windows Azure Platform Appliance (WAPA) recently. Job openings for the new Venice (directory and identity) Team specifically reference WAPA as a target. It's good to see signs of life for the WAPA project, but MSFT risks a stillborn SKU if they continue to obfuscate with marketese whatever problems they're having in productizing WAPA,<br><br>--rj
    Roger_Jennings
    • Good stuff, Roger

      Nice find on the job stuff! And agreed: Hopefully next week they are going to be more transparent about what's holding things up! MJ
      Mary Jo Foley
  • RE: Windows Azure Appliances are still in Microsoft's plans

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