Microsoft teams with six server vendors to offer certified private-cloud stacks

Microsoft is teaming with a handful of server vendors to provide validated private-cloud stacks, consisting of a variety of hardware, plus Microsoft virtualization and management software.
Written by Mary Jo Foley, Senior Contributing Editor

Microsoft is teaming with a handful of server vendors to provide validated private-cloud stacks, consisting of a variety of hardware, plus Microsoft virtualization and management software.

Microsoft took the wraps off its new "Hyper-V Cloud" programs and initiatives on the opening its TechEd Europe conference in Berlin on November 8.

Microsoft is calling the reference architectures that it has developed for customers who want a faster and more "risk-free" private-cloud deployments "Hyper-V Cloud Fast Track." Server vendors which have agreed to provide validated stacks as part of the Fast Track program include Dell, Fujitsu, Hitachi, HP, IBM and NEC. Starting on November 8, Dell and IBM will start offering their pre-configured Hyper-V Cloud systems, and the other partners will follow in the coming months, according to Microsoft.

What's included in the Hyper-V Cloud Fast Track stack? Windows Server 2008 R2 with Hyper-V; System Center Operations Manager; System Center Virtual Machine Manager;  System Center Service Manager;  Opalis (workflow automation); and System Center Virtual Machine Manager R2 Self-Service Portal. The Self-Service Portal is the product formerly known as the Dynamic Datacenter Toolkit. Microsoft officials announced the release-to-the-Web of the final version of the Self-Service Portal at Tech Ed today.

Other than Windows Server, Hyper-V and Virtual Machine Manager, these components are "recommended," rather than required, elements of the Hyper-V Cloud stack.

(A side note: In recent months, Microsoft also has cited its AppFabric middleware as part of its private-cloud solution. However, neither Windows AppFabric nor Windows Azure AppFabric is included as part of the Hyper-V Cloud stack outlined today. This is because the Hyper-V Cloud stack is more about base-level infrastructure than the cloud-application layer, the Softies said when I asked. At some point in the not-too-distant future, however, Microsoft may introduce more reference specs  outlining private-cloud processes and recommendations at the Exchange, SharePoint and SQL Server layer, officials said.)

In addition to providing the spec behind the stack, Microsoft also is announcing a new Hyper-V Cloud Service Provider Program (the version 2 of the Dynamic Datacenter Alliance program), via which more than 70 service providers worldwide will be able to implement the newly announced private cloud stacks. Microsoft also is making available Hyper-V Cloud Deployment Guides for customers who'd prefer to build out their own private clouds.

With its certified stack program, "VMware tells you what kinds of storage, blades and other components you need to buy," said David David McCann, General Manager of Product Management for Microsoft's Windows Server & Cloud Division.

Microsoft's goal in providing the Fast Track stacks is to offer mid-market and high-end customers more choices from more vendors when building shared networking, compute and storage resource pools inside their datacenters, he said.

Microsoft is leaving it up to each of the partnering vendors as to which storage or networking or blade devices they recommend. The only requirement is the resulting Hyper-V private-cloud stacks follow the 90-page guideline that McCann's team, Microsoft Consulting Services and the OEMs created over the past eight months.

"We can't tell server vendors how to build out their servers. We are a software vendor," said McCann. "We've been appropriately humble and are not trying to be a bully."

Microsoft has been fleshing out its private-cloud strategy and deliverables for a couple of years. But the validated stack approach is new for the company. Microsoft is counting on the new strategy to increase its virtualiztion share, boost customers' confidence in the private cloud and create new services opportunities for its partners, McCann said.

Microsoft also is continuing work on its Windows Azure Appliance -- its private cloud-in-a-box offering that it announced this past summer. Microsoft is working with several of the same server partners, specifically, Dell, HP and Fujitsu, to create customized datacenter containers running Azure that will be available to customers who want to host their applications and data but not necessarily inside Microsoft's own datacenters. It sounds like the appliances won't be available to customers this year, as Microsoft officials said earlier this summer; the first part of 2011 seems to be the new Windows Azure Appliance delivery target.

McCann said Microsoft is expecting the Azure Appliances and the Hyper-V Cloud servers to appeal to different customer segments. Those with highly proprietary data who want/need to keep it on premises or those who absolutely need to insure that their data stays inside the country may prefer the Hyper-V Cloud approach. "It depends on the vertical, the country, the sovereignty laws, the age of the application and other factors," McCann explained.

Analysts at IDC were bullish about the new Hyper-V Cloud stack approach.

"(I)t is reasonable to expect that Hyper-V Cloud customers will quickly be able to both self-provision virtual machines (VMs) and optimize infrastructure dynamically using automated workload migration technology driven by pre-defined application performance policies and thresholds. For organizations that have historically overlooked System Center as a viable enterprise data center management software option, Hyper-V cloud signals that it is time to take a second look," said Mary Johnston Turner, Research Director for Enterprise Systems Management.

IT pros: What's your take on the Hyper-V Cloud stacks? Do they make private-cloud computing more interesting? Or do you agree with some of Microsoft's competitors who claim the private cloud is a fake cloud?

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