Microsoft has unveiled a version of Windows Azure designed to be shipped on third-party server hardware to enable customers or service providers to build cloud infrastructure for hosting Azure services.
Announced at Microsoft's Worldwide Partner Conference, the Windows Azure platform appliance combines Windows Azure and Microsoft SQL Azure with Microsoft-specified server hardware.
Customers and service provider partners that deploy the appliance will gain the benefits of Microsoft's cloud services, the firm said, but will also have control over the location of these services as well as retaining their own data.
Bob Muglia, president of Microsoft's Server and Tools Business, said that the move gives customers greater choice of where to deploy cloud services, such as in a Microsoft datacentre, that of a service provider, on the customer's own premises, or a combination of all three.
"Today's introduction of the Windows Azure platform appliance ushers in a new era of cloud computing, and we are looking forward to working with our partners to bring all the benefits of the appliance to our customers and the business technology industry," he said.
Each deployment of the Windows Azure platform appliance will vary, but will typically be made up of hundreds or even thousands of servers, with associated storage and network components, all pre-configured with the Azure service running on top.
"Over time, we are working with partners to deliver a number of form factors and determine the correct size for deployments, but the announcements today are all in the region of 1,000 servers," said Mike Shutz, director of product management for Windows Server marketing at Microsoft.
Shutz said that some Microsoft customers had asked for greater control and the ability to deploy Azure services in their own datacentre, which the Windows Azure platform appliance provides.
Microsoft also intends that customers will be able to move workloads from their own datacentre out to one operated by Microsoft or a service provider partner, if they wish, but this capability will have to wait for the next update of its Systems Center Operations Manager.
Among the vendors backing the new Windows Azure platform appliance is Dell, which is planning to offer it on Dell hardware as part of its datacentre solutions services for customers.
Fujitsu also announced plans to deploy the Windows Azure platform appliance in its own datacentres, starting in Japan later this year, and expanding later to other locations. It will use the platform to provide services to customers on a global basis.
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