Channel Watch

Windows Azure Appliance: Out of the Spotlight but Alive

There has been activity among Microsoft's appliance partners revolving around Azure -- but you wouldn't know it from this year's WPC, where the product played a backstage role.

The literal centerpiece of the Microsoft Worldwide Partner Conference (WPC) last year in Washington, D.C., was the Windows Azure Platform Appliance. The tractor-trailer-sized prototype dominated the 2010 WPC show floor.

A year later, the Windows Azure appliance played a strictly backstage role at the 2011 WPC in Los Angeles this summer. While it was absent, however, at least it was mentioned.

Microsoft and its appliance partners -- HP, Dell, Fujitsu and eBay -- had been mostly tight-lipped about the appliance in the year between the conferences, even though executives had said last July that services based on it would start becoming available in late 2010.

Last year, Microsoft and OEM executives said the appliances would initially consist of Windows Azure, SQL Azure and the Microsoft-specified configuration of nearly 900 servers, along with storage and networking gear. Microsoft would remotely manage the appliances and provide platform software updates.

With little public discussion of the appliances in the interim, and with two of the boxes' key public advocates -- Bob Muglia and Ray Ozzie -- gone from Microsoft, the future of the devices was very much in doubt. Meanwhile, Microsoft has recently ramped up emphasis on the related concept of private cloud, which is more a software play and more in line with Redmond's traditional strengths.

While no appliances were on display at the Dell, Fujitsu, HP or Microsoft booths this year, Microsoft did confirm that work is continuing on the joint projects.

In June, Microsoft and Fujitsu announced that the Fujitsu Global Cloud Platform (FGCP/A5) service was set to launch in August. The service runs from a Windows Azure Platform Appliance in Fujitsu's datacenter in Japan.

FGCP/A5 offers application development frameworks, such as the Microsoft .NET Framework, Java and PHP, and data-storage capabilities. The services are consistent with the Windows Azure platform provided by Microsoft, but they're hosted independently of Microsoft datacenters and services. The main benefit of the approach, according to a Microsoft FAQ, is that "it provides the benefits of the Windows Azure platform with greater physical control, geographic proximity, regulatory compliance and data sovereignty."

In a blog post, the Microsoft Server & Tools Business team detailed progress by HP and eBay. According to the blog, HP has an operational appliance at its datacenter and plans to make services available to customers later this year, and eBay is in the early stages of implementing on the Windows Azure Platform Appliance.

Missing from the blog statement was any mention of Dell. But in an interview, Microsoft Corporate Vice President of the Worldwide Partner Group Jon Roskill confirmed that Dell was still working on an appliance.

Progress toward cloud appliances all around the globe isn't happening as fast as it seemed like it might in July 2010, but the concept is moving forward.

About the Author

Scott Bekker is editor in chief of Redmond Channel Partner magazine.