Microsoft releases Azure cloud platform appliance

With the help of hardware partners, Microsoft has released a version of its Windows Azure cloud platform as an appliance, the company said on Monday during the kickoff of its Worldwide Partner Conference (WPC) being held this week in Washington D.C.

Microsoft has run a version of its Windows Azure as a service since February, and the company has claimed the service has been used by 10,000 customers. The company is now offering the platform software, packaged with a set of servers.

In a blog posting, Microsoft server and tools corporate vice president Robert Wahbe, explained that the appliance could provide a means for organizations to run a cloud service, either internally or for their own customers.

“Using it, service providers, governments and large enterprises who would consider buying, say, 1000 servers at a time, will be able to get the control they need,” Wahbe said.

“What we are talking about is a specific locked-down piece of hardware that can represent hundreds of thousands of servers,” said Amy Barzdukas, senior director of product management, in an interview with the IDG News Service. “Like an appliance, it is standardized and turn-key, so customers can deploy the Windows Azure in their data centers.”

Barzdukas said an appliance can be useful for organizations that wish to run their software both internally and on external Azure services, adding that the workload can be easily moved between multiple Azure locations. “It provides scale of the platform, but with the added benefit of control of the location,” she said.

According to Barzdukas, Dell, Fujitsu and Hewlett-Packard will each sell a “limited production release” of the appliance, as well as offer an Azure service for their customers. eBay intends to use the appliance for internal operations. A broader release is expected by later this year.

The Azure appliance will have all the functionality with Microsoft’s own Azure service, Barzdukas said.

Microsoft plans to post a new promotional Web page devoted to the offering on Monday. Bob Muglia, Microsoft senior vice president of the server and tools business, is also expected to talk about the appliance at WPC.

In addition to the release of the Azure appliance, Microsoft also announced that it has shipped the release candidate of the System Center Virtual Machine Manager Self Service Portal, which is a Windows Server virtualization tool pack, and has released both the beta of Windows 7 Service Pack 1 and Windows Server 2008 R2 Service Pack 1.

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