Channeling the Cloud

Microsoft Gives Its Cloud-in-a-Box Vision a Second Try

The first Azure appliance debuted to much fanfare at the 2010 Worldwide Partner Conference, only to fade from the spotlight almost immediately after. Four years later, Microsoft is reviving its earlier plans with the new Cloud Platform System.

Perhaps the biggest product -- literally -- Microsoft ever introduced was the Windows Azure Platform Appliance. The company took the wraps off the huge, room-sized, prefab datacenter in a box at its Worldwide Partner Conference (WPC) in 2010 with expectations that major enterprises such as eBay and large services providers would use it to extend the boundaries of the then-nascent Microsoft cloud service with their own private iterations of Azure.

These turnkey Azure datacenters were the centerpiece of the Microsoft booth at the WPC. Microsoft had announced partnerships with Dell, Fujitsu and Hewlett-Packard to deliver these appliances. In the Redmond Channel Partner September 2010 cover story following that WPC, we said, "The successful implementation of these systems could re-define how the channel and services providers deliver IT in the years to come." As we now know, no successful implementations were ever disclosed, and it has taken some time for Azure to mount a formidable challenge.

While Microsoft took the appliance on a road show following that WPC, the company and its OEM partners soon stopped talking about it. For better or worse, it was DOA. Or at least, so we thought.

Now it's back in a refined form with a new brand -- the Cloud Platform System (CPS), in keeping with the service's honed name, Microsoft Azure. And instead of the elaborate prefab containers with Microsoft-engineered power and cooling design, it's based on turnkey converged infrastructure from Dell.

Microsoft revealed the new CPS at an event in San Francisco led by CEO Satya Nadella and Scott Guthrie, executive VP for cloud and enterprise. The new CPS, now available, still lets customers and service providers run their own Azure clouds, which no longer lack the infrastructure limitations and support for virtual machine instances that once plagued the platform.

The initial release consists of racks configured with Dell PowerEdge servers, storage enclosures and network switches. Each rack includes 32 CPU nodes and up to 282TB of storage. On the software side customers get Windows Server 2012 R2 with Hyper-V, configured in a virtualized, multi-tenant architecture; System Center 2012 R2; and the Windows Azure Pack.

So far, the first two known customers of the CPS are NTTX, which will use it to provide its own Azure Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS) in Japan, and CapGemini, which will provide its own solutions for customers running in the Azure cloud.

CapGemini is using it for an offering called SkySight, which will run a variety of applications, including SharePoint and Lync, as well as a secure, policy-driven orchestration service based on its own implementation of Azure.

In 2014, Microsoft differentiated Azure with its hybrid offering of software via a cloud OS, and a rapidly growing global datacenter footprint of 19 and counting. CPS could become an important component of the overall success of Azure, especially if Microsoft and its partners can ultimately bring it to managed services providers who cater to smaller customers.

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About the Author

Jeffrey Schwartz is editor of Redmond magazine and also covers cloud computing for Virtualization Review's Cloud Report. In addition, he writes the Channeling the Cloud column for Redmond Channel Partner. Follow him on Twitter @JeffreySchwartz.