Microsoft to try again to deliver an Azure 'cloud in a box' appliance

Microsoft is planning to try again to deliver preconfigured racks of servers to enterprise users and partners in the hope of convincing them to start moving toward the cloud.
Written by Mary Jo Foley, Senior Contributing Editor

Back in 2010, Microsoft officials announced the company was readying Windows Azure Appliances, meant to function as "private clouds in a box." But that plan fizzled over the next three years, with Microsoft eventually discontinuing work on the project.


It now sounds, however, as though Microsoft is going to try, try again to provide partners and larger enterprise users with preconfigured Azure appliances.

Microsoft's coming Azure appliances, codenamed "San Diego," will consist of preassembled racks of servers running Microsoft's Azure Pack, I've heard from various sources who requested anonymity. Appliance customers will get compute, network and storage resources to use inside their own datacenters.

I'm not sure (yet) which vendors' servers will be included or when Microsoft will announce officially its new appliance plans. I've asked Microsoft officials for comment; no word back yet.

Microsoft originally announced Azure Pack back in July 2012 when it was known as "Windows Azure Services for Windows Server." Azure Pack integrates with Windows Server 2012 R2 and System Center 2012 R2. It provides users with the on-premises equivalents of a number of Azure technologies, including a self-service portal for managing services like Web sites, virtual machines and Service Bus; a portal for administrators to manage "resource clouds"; scalable Web hosting and more. For more useful information on Azure Pack, check out the Azure Pack Wiki on TechNet.

Microsoft plans to rely on Windows Storage Spaces drive-pooling technology and cluster shared volume (CSV) for appliance storage, my sources say. Microsoft officials already have acknowledged the company is working with various server partners to create a cluster-in-a-box architecture for those who prefer Scale-Out File Server (SOFS) for file-based storage for Hyper-V and SQL clusters over SMB 3.0.

According to sources, customers and partners will order the coming appliances directly from Microsoft and Microsoft will be providing them with direct support. I haven't heard anything about intended pricing, but these appliances will be aimed, at least for now, at partners and large business customers only, sources said.

When Microsoft announced its original plans for Windows Azure Appliances in 2010, 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 at all (best I could tell).

My sources said Microsoft decided to stop work on the original Azure Appliances by late 2012 or early 2013, even though no one ever officially said the project was dead.

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