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Microsoft Azure Goes To Space via HPE Partnership

A partnership with Hewlett Packard Enterprise (HPE) will bring Microsoft Azure to the International Space Station (ISS) by way of HPE's Spaceborne Computer-2.

According to Microsoft's announcement Thursday, a launch of the Spaceborne Computer-2 is scheduled for Feb. 20 as part of a Northrop Grumman ISS resupply effort. The machine will be used to carry out "advanced edge computing and AI capabilities" using Azure services at the ISS, according to Dr. Mark Fernandez, HPE's solutions architect of converged edge systems. It'll transmit "large data sets to and from Earth," he said.

HPE and NASA launched the first version of the Spaceborne Computer back on Aug. 14, 2017, according to HPE's timeline. It's not wholly clear what's different with version 2 this time around, but the new machine will be used to "simulate computational loads during space travel via data intensive applications" according to HPE's Spaceborne Computer description. HPE's first Spaceborne Computer had achieved a 1 trillion calculations per second (1 teraflop) milestone back in 2017.

The Spaceborne Computer-2 consists of the HPE Edgeline Converged system, which is designed for use in "harsh operating environments." It also uses the HPE ProLiant System, HPC solutions and fault protection via the HPE Serviceguard for Linux solution.

That latter HPE component suggests that Linux will the operating system used during the effort.

So, it seems that while Windows might not be the operating system to run the ISS workloads in space, Azure services back on earth will support the data-intensive operations. Proposed applications, according to Microsoft, include modeling dust storms for future Mars missions, "plant and hydroponics analysis" (think of actor Matt Damon's innovations in "The Martian") and medical imaging using ultrasound.

Microsoft sees the HPE partnership as part of its Azure Space efforts. Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella had introduced Azure Space at last year's Microsoft Ignite event.

Since that Azure Space announcement, Microsoft has so far has mostly described its earthbound aspects. It created an Azure Orbital ground structure that's used to receive data from low-earth orbit or medium-earth orbit satellites. It also has a box-car-like Microsoft Azure Modular Datacenter structure that can be plopped down in a location and used for compute and storage operations. 

The partnership with HPE on the Spaceborne Computer-2, though, will be using HME's ground structures to connect with Azure services. The connection will occur "through NASA and the HPE ground station," Microsoft's announcement indicated.

About the Author

Kurt Mackie is senior news producer for 1105 Media's Converge360 group.

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