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Microsoft's earthbound server chums fluff Redmond cloud

Dell, HP, and Fujitsu package Windows Azure

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Windows allies Dell, Hewlett-Packard, and Fujitsu will be the first to implement and sell hosted clouds running Microsoft's Azure outside of Redmond data centers.

The trio will implement the Windows Azure Platform Appliance, announced by Microsoft Monday, in their own data centers and for sale with services to customers.

The Windows Azure Platform Appliance comprises Microsoft's Azure compute fabric and its Azure SQL storage mechanism and was unveiled as a way for service providers and customers of Microsoft to implement their own versions of Microsoft's cloud.

Until now, Microsoft has said only it would provide Azure and nobody else would be allowed to host or deliver its cloud.

That changed under Project Talisker, revealed here, as growing evidence has shown the bulk of money in cloud for tech companies is to be made by letting customers build and run their own, private services.

Microsoft was pushing Dell, HP, and Fujitsu hard at its annual Worldwide Partner Conference (WPC), where it announced the news, as proof of its full-blooded commitment to platforms in the sky and Azure's credibility.

The company's tag-line for the WPC is Microsoft's "all in" on cloud computing.

But Monday's news shows the work is experimental and designed to find out how a Windows Azure Platform Appliance might be built, deployed, licensed, and sold as for all the talk of deployments there's no actual products yet beyond Microsoft's existing Windows Azure and SQL Azure fabric.

In announcing the appliance on Monday, Microsoft's server and tools group president Bob Muglia told partners that the company will pre-validate the hardware used in Appliances – a model followed on data warehouse appliances to ensure configurations are reliable and perform well.

Dell and HP plan limited production release versions of the appliance for use in their data centers in the next year that will serve their own customers – which will make the pair Azure service providers. HP's using its networking, ProLiant servers, and its Performance Optimized Datacenters (PODs).

Dell gave no hardware details, but its servers are behind Bing, while the company is going to offer services such as migration of applications to the Azure cloud. Appliances for sale to customers from both companies will follow at a date not given.

Fujitsu said it will train 5,000 Azure specialists and run appliances internally by the end of 2010 starting in Japan and serve up cloud services – also making Fujitsu an Azure service provider.

Big plans, but the Windows Azure Platform Appliance's fundamentals – like form factor, licensing or price – are unknown, making this a leap of faith with Microsoft pulling on its server buddy's strings. "It's in the work over the coming months,' vice president of server and cloud platform marketing Bob Kelly told The Reg of the appliance specifics.

Kelly's title is new, after his infrastructure marketing group was re-christened server and cloud platform marketing under the massive S&T re-organization to make money from cloud without cannibalizing revenue from the Windows Server biz.

Kelly, in charge of Azure marketing and business development, did make it clear the Azure appliance won't be your classic little blade-style device that slots into some corner of your data center. This will be a clustered server approach.

"It will not be a one-server appliance. It's more than one server," Kelly said.

Also, service providers won't be allowed to customize the Azure compute and storage fabric according to Kelly who said this would mean customers couldn't take advantage of built-in features for scalability and multi-tenancy. The Appliance will run the full Windows Azure and SQL Azure code.

Kelly didn't say how Microsoft would stop people customizing their private Azure clouds but made it sound like customizations would break Microsoft's ability to automatically update customers' instances of Azure.

If customization's really your thing, Kelly reckoned you should try the Private Cloud Deployment Kit also announced Monday and that features Windows Server, System Center and Virtual Machinae Manager with guidance and tools for setting up a cloud. Also, there's the System Center Virtual Machine Manager Self-Service Portal released Monday to provide tools and guidance to how to build cloud services on the Windows Server platform. ®

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