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Azure Appliance Goes from WPC Centerpiece to Offstage Player

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

A year later, the Azure Appliance played a strictly backstage role at the 2011 WPC in Los Angeles this week. While the Appliance 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 them 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 Microsoft's traditional strengths.

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

In a blog post by the Server and Tools Business team on Tuesday, detailed progress by Fujitsu, HP and eBay. According to the blog:

  • Fujitsu announced in June that they would be launching the Fujitsu Global Cloud Platform (FGCP/A5) service in August 2011, running on a Windows Azure Platform Appliance at their datacenter in Japan. By using FGCP/A5, customers will be able to quickly build elastically-scalable applications using familiar Windows Azure platform technologies, streamline their IT operations management and be more competitive in the global market. In addition, customers will have the ability to store their business data domestically in Japan if they prefer.

  • HP also intends to use the appliance to offer private and public cloud computing services, based on Windows Azure. They have an operational appliance at their datacenter that has been validated by Microsoft to run the Windows Azure Platform and they look forward to making services available to their customers later this year.

  • eBay is in the early stages of implementing on the Windows Azure platform appliance and has successfully completed a first application on Windows Azure (ipad.ebay.com). eBay is continuing to evaluate ways in which the Windows Azure platform appliance can help improve engineering agility and reduce operating costs.

Missing from the blog statement is any mention of Dell. In an interview on Wednesday, Microsoft Corporate Vice President of the Worldwide Partner Group Jon Roskill confirmed that Dell was still working on an appliance. Roskill also contended that the message from Microsoft and the OEM partners about the availability timeline for the Appliances at the 2010 WPC was more nuanced than was generally reported.

Posted by Scott Bekker on July 14, 2011 at 11:58 AM


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