Microsoft's latest pitch to business: Make Windows Azure 'your datacenter'

Microsoft is honing its public-cloud pitch, appealing to enterprise users, just ahead of its annual management conference.
Written by Mary Jo Foley, Senior Contributing Editor

Next week is Microsoft's annual Microsoft Management Summit conference in Las Vegas. No, I won't be there (me and Las Vegas -- we're not friends). But I have been combing through the session list for the event, which runs from April 8 to April 12.


In case you don't already know about MMS, this isn't a show for tech wimps. It's for IT managers who love things like System Center Configuration Manager Service Pack 1 and User State Migration Tookit 5.0. But it's also a place where some of Microsoft's higher-level messaging around Windows Server, System Center and Windows Azure occasionally bubble up.

Two of the sessions from the online MMS catalog piqued my interest because of their focus on getting enterprise users to see Windows Azure as YOUR datacenter."

WS-B331 Windows Azure and Active Directory
Speaker(s): David Tesar
Track(s): Windows Server & Azure Infrastructure
Session Type: Breakout Session
Product(s): Active Directory, Windows Azure
In this session you will learn how to plan, deploy and manage Active Directory within Windows Azure. Windows Azure is YOUR datacenter. Deploying Active Directory within your cloud is a key part of enabling LOB applications to work.

WS-B333 Windows Azure in the Enterprise
Speaker(s): Karri Alexion-Tiernan, Venkat Gattamneni
Track(s): Windows Server & Azure Infrastructure
Session Type: Breakout Session
Product(s): Windows Azure
In this session, you will discover how you can make Windows Azure YOUR datacenter. From compute and storage on demand, to messaging and identity services, come and see how you can power your enterprise today with Windows Azure.

I haven't heard Microsoft make this pitch in this way before. Sure, the company has been encouraging corporate customers to go the Azure route, by onboarding their existing apps using the still-in-preview Azure virtual machines and/or by writing new applications that take advantage of Windows Azure's platform-as-a-service capabilities. (This is in addition to encouraging developers of all stripes, including mobile developers, to write apps that connect to the Azure cloud.)

But telling enterprise customers that Windows Azure, which is hosted by Microsoft in its own datacenters, to consider Azure THEIR datacenter is new. (New to me, at least.)

A few years ago, Microsoft was moving toward providing its largest enterprise customers and partners with an Azure-in-a-box capability, via Azure appliances. This effort seems to have been tabled, best I can tell. Instead, Microsoft has been adding Azure features to Windows Server, enabling its hosting partners to turn their implementations of Windows Server into something that more closely resembles Windows Azure. There have been hints that Microsoft might allow large customers to deploy these same Azure features internally, but so far no announcement to that effect.

This doesn't mean that enterprise users, even those who are not sold wholescale on this public cloud thing, can't find some ways to use parts of Azure today, as Windows Azure General Manager Bill Hilf explained in a succint but largely overlooked post from a week ago.

Among the ways enterprise users can tap into Azure, according to Hilf:

  • Store, back up and recover their data in the cloud at a lower cost than using SAN technology, via Windows Azure Storage plus StorSimple, Windows Azure Online Backup and/or SQL Availability Groups. (Note: Microsoft execs are going to be talking about StorSimple -- the cloud-storage appliance technology Microsoft acquired last year -- at MMS.)
  • Tap into "the power of big data" by pairing Azure Websites with HDInsight, so as to mine data, generate business analytics and make adjustments
  • Integrate with on-premises Windows Servers; Linux servers; System Center; data services for SQL, No SQL; .Net, Java, Node.js, Python . (However, speaking of integration, the Azure team hasn't said anything lately about what's going on with its various Azure networking services -- including Windows Azure Connect, a k a "Sydney" and Windows Azure Virtual Network, a k a "Brooklyn." But maybe those will exit preview in the coming weeks/months, along with the aforementioned Virtual Machines for Linux and Windows Server.)
  • Test services and apps quickly by using Windows Server/Linux Server virtual images (though this capability, as I've noted before, is still in preview right now).

One other MMS session that I found interesting: Windows RT in the Enterprise. Yes, Microsoft is still maintaining that Windows RT devices aren't just for consumers. And no, no one should expect to see Outlook RT debut there. It's coming. Not yet, though....

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