Microsoft may finally have pulled the plug on its Windows Azure Appliance offering.
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. Fujitsu ended up introducing an Azure Appliance product in August 2011; the other two OEM partners never seemed to do so (best I can tell).
This week, I heard from several of my sources that Microsoft has decided to discontinue work on the Azure Appliance concept.
According to one of my sources, Microsoft has decided that its Windows Azure Services approach -- making certain Azure capabilities, such as virtual-machine and web-site hosting, available on Windows Server -- is now the favored approach. Microsoft announced a beta of Azure services in October 2012, and said the final version would be out in early 2013. As far as I know, the final version is still not available at this time. Correction: The final version was released in January 2013. Microsoft officials said Azure Services is initially aimed at hosting providers, but ultimately it could roll out to larger customers.
Late last year, Bill Hilf, General Manager of Azure, hinted that Microsoft might do some "creative things" around service level agreements, allowing enterprise customers to run apps in their own datacenters if they could do so more reliably than Microsoft could with Azure in its own datacenters.
Back to the Azure Appliances. I asked Microsoft officials this week whether it's accurate to say the company has dropped the appliance approach. A spokesperson replied: "Microsoft does not have information to share at this time, but will keep you posted when there is an update."
When I asked HP this week whether the company was still commited to delivering an Azure Appliance, I received this statement:
"HP, as a longtime partner to Microsoft, had initially announced that we would support Microsoft Azure.
"HP remains committed to our relationship with Microsoft and will continue to explore hardware, software and services relationships between the two companies to support our respective cloud offerings in the best manner that our joint customers expect."
(In other words, no comment on the appliances. Got to say, the "initially had" part of the comment doesn't make things sound too rosy between Microsoft and HP on the Azure front.)
I've emailed Fujitsu to see whether it's still offering customers the Fujitsu Global Cloud Platform (FGCP/A5). No word back so far. There don't seem to be any new mentions of FGCP/A5 on its Web site. (There is a white paper about it, dating back to October 2011, however.)
Windows Azure Appliances, as initially described, were designed to be preconfigured containers with between hundreds and thousands of servers running the Windows Azure platform. These containers were to be housed, at first, at Dell’s, HP’s and Fujitsu’s datacenters, with Microsoft providing the Azure infrastructure and services for these containers.
In the longer term, Microsoft officials said they expected some large enterprise customers to house the containers in their own datacenters on site — in other words, to run their own “customer-hosted clouds.” Over time, smaller service providers were possibly going to be authorized to make Azure Appliances available to their customers, as well.
It's unclear whether these latter two goals are still on the Azure roadmap, but they could be -- just via a different, non-hardware-partner-centric approach.