On Tuesday at the Microsoft Worldwide Partner Conference, Microsoft announced the availability of the Windows Azure Platform Appliance. Since Azure was first announced, I had been advising clients that an on-premise Azure offering was only a matter of time. With Tuesday’s announcement, Microsoft took a first step toward an Azure platform that is capable of driving internal cloud service delivery.
To be clear, Azure isn’t available to anyone who wants it. Instead, only very large enterprises (i.e., eBay) and providers (e.g., SugarCRM, GXS, and Siemens PLM Software) have access to the “appliance” at this time. The Azure appliance isn’t an appliance in the conventional sense either. Instead, Azure is comprised of the Azure software stack, SQL Azure, and prescribed server, storage, and network hardware. Microsoft’s hosted Azure platform was deployed on HP hardware, and as part of Tuesday’s announcement, Dell and Fujitsu joined the mix. So HP, Dell, and Fujitsu will all offer Windows Azure Platform Appliance solutions to their customers. Of course, equally noteworthy are the vendors not mentioned (i.e., IBM and Cisco). Considering Microsoft’s close relationship with IBM’s main rival (HP) and tight VMware-Cisco partnership, the exclusion of IBM and Cisco from the first generation Azure Platform Appliance doesn’t come as a surprise to me.
The Azure Platform Appliance could be interpreted as reactionary to VMware’s Open PaaS strategy, but I don’t see it that way. Instead, a distributable Azure platform was Microsoft’s intention from the very beginning. While the Azure appliance is directed at very large scale PaaS and SaaS deployments today, I expect the solution to eventually have capabilities to offer internal cloud services to mid-sized organizations too. When I have talked to several clients about next generation application delivery, several had reached the conclusion that for a significant portion of their users (e.g., 25%), SaaS could meet their application delivery requirements. For example, fitting a call center with low end PCs that run a web browser for accessing SaaS applications can be just as effective for TCO (if not significantly better) than other alternative application delivery models (e.g., XenApp, XenDesktop, or VMware View). Of course, SaaS today is not a complete solution for all user types, so solutions such as the Citrix and VMware offerings are required as well.
Many clients I speak with are being conservative in placing a large bet as part of their next generation application delivery strategy. Because they have until the April 2014 Windows XP end-of-life date to migrate, most are doing early pilots and small deployments at this point and have not placed an “all-in” bet with a single vendor. Furthermore, Microsoft announced at the Worldwide Partner Conference that Windows 7 “downgrade rights” to Windows XP would be extended though 2020. That buys enterprises even more time to properly architect their next generation application delivery strategy.
The goal for most progressive organizations is the same – move away from device-centric computing to a user-centric application delivery model. Tethering users to physical devices and having a user’s productivity solely determined by the availability of a single physical device is a legacy application delivery model many organizations are trying to jettison. Instead, many of our clients see their next generation delivery model as being comprised of many app delivery solutions: SaaS, PaaS, server- and client-hosted virtual desktops, application virtualization, and server-based computing (see my earlier post “The Next Gen Desktop’s Cloudy Future” for more on this subject). The bottom line – IT organizations are embarking on a fundamental shift in how they deliver services and applications. Microsoft’s solution to these challenges includes platforms such as Azure and Hyper-V, but extends to a rich policy management and partner ecosystem as well. Making Azure available as a solution for internal clouds was an inevitable step. The same can be said for directory, policy, and application integration across Microsoft’s service tiers as they relate to Microsoft’s cloud strategy. This plan and the execution sure sound familiar.