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Microsoft claims Windows Azure appliances exist

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Microsoft remains enthusiastic about the idea of selling a cloud-in-a-box, but it has conceded that its Windows Azure Appliances, unveiled nearly a year back, are few and far between.

Server and tools general manager Charles Di Bona has told financial analysts that Microsoft has started to roll out "some" Windows Azure Appliances, adding "they are early-stage at this point."

He didn't provide more of what financial types like to call "color", but the "some" he mentioned are presumably sitting in data centers at Dell, Hewlett-Packard, Fujitsu, and eBay.

Di Bona also hinted at a shift in priorities away from trying to get customers to use mega public cloud services from the likes of Dell, and moving towards the notion of private clouds where the customer can keep more control of both the actual service and their data running inside it. In the public cloud, the service provider calls the shots and puts your data on the same servers as everybody else.

Di Bona was speaking at the Jefferies Global Technology, Internet, Media & Telecom Conference presentation on May 11, and his words were picked up here. You can read the transcript here (warning: PDF) .

Microsoft seems to be looking at the Azure appliance as an alternative to Oracle chief Larry Ellison's monstrous Exadata database machine and storage server, which is being deployed by large enterprises. Asked by the event moderator about the potential for integrated appliances like Exadata, Di Bona said such appliances are very interesting and presents the future of the cloud.

But there are differences. "We think of the private cloud based on what we're doing in the public cloud, and [we're] sort of feeding that back into that appliance, which would be more of a private cloud," he said. "It has some of the same characteristics of what Oracle is doing with Exadata. So, we don't think of it as mutually exclusive, but we think that the learnings we're getting from the public cloud are different and unique in a way that they're not bringing into Exadata."

Microsoft jumped on the public cloud bandwagon last year when it unveiled the Azure Appliance and named Dell, HP, Fujitsu and eBay as early adopters of what it said was a "limited production" release of the appliance at its World Wide Partner conference in July 2010. It was the height of the public versus private cloud frenzy, with Salesforce.com CEO Mark Benioff warning people to "beware the false cloud" – meaning the private cloud, run by you, as opposed to public clouds run by companies like Salesforce.

Microsoft's plan was for the first Windows Azure appliance to be delivered later in 2010, with companies building and running services before the end of the year.

In other words: Dell, Hewlett-Packard, Fujitsu and eBay would turn into internet service providers by hosting services for their customers running on Azure. The companies were also guinea pigs, who'd help Microsoft design, develop, and deploy the appliances.

You can read how it was supposed to go down here, from president of Microsoft's server and tools Bob Muglia.

The deadlines were missed, however, and nearly 12 months later, Microsoft's partners are saying very little. Muglia is leaving Microsoft after a disagreement with chief executive Steve Ballmer.

In March, the chief executive of HP, Microsoft's biggest Windows partner, evaded a Reg question during his company's strategy day on whether HP's forthcoming infrastructure and platform cloud services would use Azure. Subsequently, it emerged that HP's services, branded Scalene, will feature APIs and languages bindings for Java, Ruby, and other open source languages with GUI and command line interface controls for both Linux/Unix and Windows. There was no mention of Windows Azure, SQL Azure, or even .NET.

Dell separately promised The Reg that it plans to offer at least two "public clouds" - one based on Microsoft's Azure platform and another based on something else that it's not ready to announce. The "other" is extremely likely to be OpenStack, the "Linux for the cloud" project founded by Rackspace and NASA. Dell is an OpenStack member.

In July 2010, Fujitsu committed to train 5,000 "or so" Azure specialists and to deploy Azure appliances in its data centers in Japan. We've heard nothing from Fujitsu since. eBay is also mum. ®

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