Microsoft Launches Appliance For Building Private Clouds

This offers scalability, efficiency, and the ability to rapidly respond to changing situations, said James Barrese, vice president of technology at eBay, which partnered with Microsoft on the appliance.

Charles Babcock, Editor at Large, Cloud

July 12, 2010

4 Min Read

Microsoft has developed a private cloud appliance with hardware partners and the $60 billion-a-year, online marketplace, eBay.

The Azure platform appliance is designed to be deployed in an on-premises private cloud in racks of hundreds or thousands of servers. It will run both Windows Server and a software stack that matches what's available in Microsoft's Azure public cloud. In addition to enterprises, the appliance is geared for use by large cloud services suppliers.

Microsoft is seeking to help build private clouds, not at the expense of its Azure public cloud, but on a pattern that matches what's available in Azure. Such private clouds, locked down behind firewalls and intrusion detection systems, will be able to handle private customer data and financial transactions. To do so, Microsoft is willing to run Java applications on its appliance as first class citizens alongside Microsoft .Net languages, such as Visual Basic and C#, Microsoft's Java competitor.

"They got that right. We decided to move forward with them," said James Barrese, eBay's VP of technology.

Earlier this year, EBay, as a $60 billion-a-year online marketplace, was looking toward its next generation infrastructure and showed Microsoft its blueprint for future high volume, scalable operations. EBay in the past has built up its own data centers.

But it was seeking greater automation of pooled resources, greater ease of maintaining security and easier administration of users. "We asked, do we want to build this ourselves or partner with somebody who can do it," said Barrese in an interview. "We see Azure appliances as being able to scale out very quickly," he said.

In positioning itself as an architect and builder of the private cloud for eBay and others, Microsoft is also ensuring that its existing customers stay wedded to Windows as they move toward cloud computing. The Azure platform appliance will do many things the same way Azure does, so it's also building potential future users of its public Azure cloud.

Microsoft is partnering with HP, Fujitsu and Dell, who will adopt the appliance for use in their own cloud services, then make versions available to customers. EBay plans to install a limited production release sometime later this year for the Garden by EBay site, where it tests partner's ideas and new customer applications. Barrese said eBay expects to move beyond the testbed site to broader use of the appliance in production systems at a future date.

"This offers scalability, efficiency, the ability to rapidly respond to changing situations," he said. The number one reason to implement a cloud appliance is for "internal agility," although Microsoft is saying the ability to manage large numbers of Azure platform appliances will lead to cost savings as well.

"I could build it myself, but I don't want to," continued Barrese. "I can focus my engineering effort of a better experience for buyers and sellers."

The appliance is aimed at giving enterprise data centers more of the elasticity and manageability of the public cloud while still being able to meet compliance requirements and regulations. The appliance will become available in a "limited production release" later this year, said Amy Barzdukas, general manager of the Microsoft Servers and Tools Business communications, in an interview. No date has been set for general availability.

EBay's buyer, seller and trading systems are based on Java applications, and Barrese said his firm was surprised when Microsoft assured him that the Azure platform appliance would be optimized to run Java. Windows Server has run Java in the past but Barrese noted the friction that had existed at one time between Microsoft and Sun Microsystems, Java's originator. He hadn't previously considered Microsoft as a potential partner in developing a future Java environment, he said.

"We run the majority of our Java applications on Windows Server today. We see this (appliance) as a natural extension of our existing environment," Barrese said. EBay plans to continue to work with Microsoft for years to come on the design and implementation of the appliance as a way to contain its own data center management and configuration costs, he noted.

The Azure appliance will run, in addition to Windows Server, the Azure SQL data management system on x86 hardware built to a Microsoft networking and server specification. The appliance will have its own storage as well, said Barzdukas. Although Microsoft is calling it an appliance to indicate it will be preconfigured for the customer, there will be variations based on partner value-adds, she said. But all Azure platform appliances will have "a common identity, based on Microsoft specifications, and management model."

There will be "a much smaller range of variability" than found on Windows Server in the typical data center, she added. It will often be sold as a set of identical machines on a rack of servers with shared network and I/O settings.

The appliance was announced at Microsoft's Worldwide Partner Conference Monday in Washington, D.C., by CEO Steve Ballmer and Bob Muglia, president of the Server and Tools Business.

About the Author(s)

Charles Babcock

Editor at Large, Cloud

Charles Babcock is an editor-at-large for InformationWeek and author of Management Strategies for the Cloud Revolution, a McGraw-Hill book. He is the former editor-in-chief of Digital News, former software editor of Computerworld and former technology editor of Interactive Week. He is a graduate of Syracuse University where he obtained a bachelor's degree in journalism. He joined the publication in 2003.

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