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New Azure appliance too big for IT

The latest addition to Microsoft’s Windows Azure platform promises to give customers greater control over cloud-based data, though the release isn’t likely to mean much to most IT professionals right away.

The company announced its Windows Azure Platform Appliance at the Worldwide Partner conference (WPC) in Washington, D.C. this week. The appliance, which has also been dubbed Azure-in-a-box, is designed to let organizations deploy Windows Azure in their own data centers. It includes the company’s SQL Azure Database and will run on Microsoft specified hardware, storage and network configurations.

“The appliance is the same Windows Azure platform we run at Microsoft,” said Robert Wahbe, corporate vice president of server and tools marketing, in a company blog post. “Using it, service providers, governments and large enterprises will be able to get the control they need, while still getting the benefits of scale, multi–tenancy, and low operational costs.”

The announcement might excite IT professionals weary of public cloud services, but most are unlikely to see any benefits from the technology any time soon.

“First of all, [Windows Azure Platform Appliance] is only for large institutions,” said Andrew Novick, a consultant with Novick Software, Inc. based near Boston, Mass. He agreed that large government and financial institutions are primary candidates. “If they had adopted Azure – which nobody has yet – they might decide [the appliance] is kind of reasonable.”

Novick, who is also a SQL Server MVP, added that he could see very large organizations take advantage of the lower power and cooling costs, particularly if they were big fans of the Microsoft cloud model. As for smaller IT enterprises, however, he said deployments are unlikely. “Who’s going to need to have all this installed instead of just renting it? It’s only for those who don’t want to let the data out of their control, either for security reasons, regulation, or so on.”

Microsoft partners Dell, Hewlett-Packard and Fujitsu are currently deploying the appliance software in their data centers as a means of providing Azure services to their customers. The company said that eBay has adopted the appliance as well. In fact, it seems those are the only companies that can use the appliance at this time. Microsoft plans to see how things shake out with this limited release before sketching out a roadmap for more general availability.

Still, some view the announcement as the right step toward providing a true private cloud option for everyone. Tim Huckaby, CEO of Microsoft partner Interknowlogy, expressed enthusiasm for the appliance in an interview with my colleague Barb Darrow.

“The ‘appliance’ tag is a bit misleading because it’s not really an appliance but a turnkey software solution to run Azure in-house,” he said. “It’s targeted at large orgs because those are the ones that would benefit most from it. It is really a great idea and beautiful in its engineering.”

As for the original public Azure service, Novick identified flexibility as a chief benefit for IT professionals in smaller organizations.

“Say you have all these resources, and this application that only runs at the beginning and end of the month. But then it sits practically idle the rest of the time. That’s a perfect app for Azure,” he said. “It’s great for the little stuff like that – and there’s a lot of little stuff. [Some people] just might not want to let it go off premise.”

For more on Windows Azure and the cloud in general, visit

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