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Microsoft: Give us three MORE WEEKS, folks – our StorSimple Cloud is coming

Redmond introduces Azure to freshly acquired arrays

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Microsoft says data center admins will have to wait a mere three more weeks until they can buy hardware built for – and intimately linked with – its Azure public cloud.

The software giant said on Wednesday that it had made a number of upgrades to its Azure cloud to help it compete with rivals Amazon and Google and make it easier for customers to deploy "hybrid clouds" that blur the distinction between on-premises equipment and cloud services.

One of the most anticipated announcements was the availability of two new StorSimple storage arrays, marking the first major upgrade of the cloudy arrays since Microsoft acquired StorSimple in October 2012.

The upgrade comprises two new devices, the 15TB StorSimple 8100 and 40TB model 8600. Both are vanilla iSCSI SANs, albeit with inline dedupe and encryption, that now also pack 10G Ethernet connections. The arrays also come with cloudy capacity of 200TB and 500TB respectively. The new devices are said to represent a complete refresh of the StorSimple platform, software and hardware, and have been designed by the core team behind the business unit's original products.

There's also a new “Microsoft Azure StorSimple Virtual Appliance” that replicates everything the physical arrays do, but in software and running in Azure. Microsoft expects that users will point apps running on virtual machines inside Azure at the virtual appliance, which in turn will point itself at data stored in Azure. That data may have been shuffled or synched into Azure by an on-premises StorSimple, as the new models retain tiering and replication capabilities. The tiering features can go from hard disk to solid state disk and then the cloud.

Another addition is the Microsoft Azure StorSimple Manager, a cloudy control panel from which users can manage on-premises physical arrays and in-Azure virtual arrays. The virtual version isn't offered on premises, but the prospect hasn't been ruled out.

Microsoft feels the new “Hybrid Storage Arrays”, as it wants StorSimple to be known henceforth, have also had a sufficient innards upgrade to become a candidate home for virtual machines. Previous StorSimple boxen were suggested as homes for wimpy VMs. Now Microsoft thinks it can handle more serious workloads that require reasonable amounts of database IO.

Microsoft couldn't offer The Reg details of what's under the hood of the two new arrays, and how those components help it handle more demanding VMs. Hints suggest StorSimple has joined the multi-core Xeon club and put that chippery's power to work by dedicating cores to dedupe and encryption, leaving other cores free to shunt data around or help VMs go about their business.

Whatever's inside, Microsoft is confident the new boxes can comfortably handle the chore of storing data you'd rather not have on a server, and will do so whether your server runs Linux, Windows or is tended by VMware. The upgrades also mean that if you call StorSimple a “cloud storage gateway” Microsoft will get grumpy with you: the company believes its storage hardware is a “real” SAN, not just a JBOD with some software on top.

Redmond's blog post offers more information on the releases.

Microsoft is doing something interesting here, because while HP has tried a similar thing with its CloudSystem appliances, those devices worked with partner clouds like Amazon along with HP's own services.

Meanwhile, neither Google nor Amazon has a presence in the on-premise hardware market and they instead have to work through partners, many of whom are also competing with them in the cloud.

StorSimple's close ties between on-premises hardware and cloud is therefore something somewhat novel.

In addition to the new arrays and Azure services, Microsoft announced two new Azure cloud regions [that's data centers to you and me – Ed] called US Central (Iowa) and US East 2 (Virginia).

The company also released a new service, Event Hub, designed for processing streaming data to compete with Amazon's Kinesis tech and Google's Cloud Dataflow products. Finally, it buffed up its Preview Portal cloud management dashboard to let admins fiddle with even more of Azure through the notorious, tiled "Metro" interface. ®

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