Microsoft Cloud Platform System Brings Azure to On-Prem

Microsoft Cloud Platform System Brings Azure to On-Prem

Azure in a box

Microsoft on Monday held an enterprise cloud event in San Francisco and announced, among other things, the Cloud Platform System. This is a sort of "Azure-consistent cloud in a box"—well, a datacenter-friendly rack or set of racks—that will let enterprise customers take advantage of its private and hybrid cloud capabilities. Microsoft also announced new Azure VM and storage capabilities and a new Azure Marketplace.

If you're confused by how the Cloud Platform System new offering sits in Microsoft's ever-growing cloud lineup, get in line. It's pretty clear that even Microsoft understands a continue confusion over cloud computing in general and "mobile first, cloud first" in particular, and Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella opened Monday's event with yet another explanation of where the firm sees things heading.

This is all very interesting, but I'm reminded of an eye-opening discussion I had with Microsoft's Jeff Woolsey several years back, when he explained to me that cloud computing was nothing more than a combination of services plus management plus automation. And that while the term 'cloud computing' was confusing—or in some cases even aggravating—to some in IT, it was really just a way to formally identify an evolved way of doing things.

One of Microsoft's big contributions to cloud computing is that it doesn't have to always happen in the public cloud. It can happen in a private cloud—i.e. be essentially local or in-house—or it can happen in hybrid scenarios that combine public and private cloud infrastructures. And as a trusted partner to enterprises for decades now, Microsoft is in a unique position to provide the hybrid solutions which are ideal for enterprises. (Hybrid cloud computing can be as simple as onboarding public cloud storage, say from Office 365's OneDrive for Business offering, and federating access via Windows Azure Active Directory.)

But as we move forward, Microsoft is, of course, updating its cloud offerings more quickly than its on-premises solutions. So while there will be a Windows Server 10 (or whatever the next version is called upon release next year), many of the learnings and improvements that will drive that product were hashed out, in some cases relatively long ago, in Azure. So the Cloud Platform System is a way to bring Azure capabilities into enterprise datacenters more quickly, without forcing them to give up complete control.

But it's 2014. So that product is of course built on top of the well-understood and mature Windows Server. That is, Cloud Platform System is itself a formalized combination of previously available products like Windows Server 2012 R2, System Center 2012 R2 and the Windows Azure Pack, the latter of which is the bit that brings Azure-specific capabilities into your data center, all in a single package.

It can be implemented as a private cloud, but of course many enterprises will choose to go the hybrid route, where they can take advantage of web site and resource cloud self-service portals and the like. (Or perhaps you're interested in newly announced products like Azure Premium Storage and a new generation of "G-family" virtual machines that support up to 32 CPU cores, 450 GB RAM, 6.5 TB of local SSD and 32 TB of total storage per VM. A new Azure Marketplace will connect ISVs and the enterprise.)

The point behind CPS, really, is to bring as much as possible of the Azure software stack that Microsoft actually uses in its public cloud offering to enterprises, configured for the on-prem datacenter. That means redundancy and backup, security, and ease of use out of the, ahem, box.

And what a box. CPS can be deployed in one to four racks, each of which can include 512 processor cores across 32 servers, 8 TB of RAM with 256 GB per server, 282 TB of usable storage, 1360 Gb/s of internal rack connectivity, 560 Gb/s of inter-rack connectivity and up to 60 Gb/s connectivity to the external world, according to Microsoft. Furthermore, each rack can support up to 2000 VMs, each with 2 virtual CPUs, 1.75 GB RAM and 50 GB of storage, so you can scale to 8000 VMs over four racks.

From a licensing, acquisition and support perspective, Cloud Platform System is reminiscent of early Windows Server Datacenter editions, where you would essentially deal directly with a hardware partner for the full package and pricing is, yes really, confidential. In this case, only Dell is onboard so far, but I would imagine that other server heavy-hitters will be coming along in the next year as well. Dell's solution will become available on November 3.

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