Azure Appliance: Cloud in a box
When Microsoft announced Azure, a lot of people (including myself) wondered if the Azure platform is going to be available locally - in my own datacenter.
Enterprises are concerned about the security and liability aspects of putting valuable information off-premise. How can we be sure that there are/wont be any no naughty codes from other accounts snipping through the cracks and stealing data. Enterprises want isolation. For the longest time, this isn't possible (without using Azure Service Bus and hosting some parts of the services in a private cloud).
My motivation for the interest was slightly different and geared more towards being able to start developing in the Azure paradigms (roles) without being locked in into the Microsoft hosted Azure infrastructure. I wanted to be able to develop roles on the development fabric, put it into production on a Windows Server stack and when I need a lot more scalability, I'll then put it up on the Microsoft hosted Azure infrastructure. For the longest time, this isn't possible either.
In July 2010, Microsoft announced Azure Appliance. Something that Microsoft have said they would never do. Azure is going to be available on premise through the Azure appliance!
Private Cloud: Set affinity to local!
The Azure Appliance is essentially a private cloud solution from Microsoft. It's going to consist of a full software, hardware including all the network stack. This is important to guarantee compatibility across different deployments. By the sound of things, when you're buying one what you'll get is a container full of servers just like the ones serving on the public cloud.
This, in essence, will give companies that extra comfort by letting them ‘own’ (and pay for) the whole stack. It's a true local affinity!
IT as a service
Microsoft have been pretty secretive to the details of how Azure work under the hood and it seems this announcement doesn't change anything. It will come with a full service from Microsoft : which is a good thing; we don't want the exponential growth of Azure to be impeded by the complexity of rolling out service packs to different Azure private data centers, which will be expensive for both Microsoft and their clients.
By the end of the day what you're getting is a freakin' huge computer(s) and a IT team to go along with it. Ebay is apparently one of the company who will get a taste of this sooner than other companies.
‘Opening up’ to scale out
Amazon and Google had a lot of advantages when it comes to building new datacentres. They start off by selling surplus computing time! Microsoft didn't share the same advantages as they built Azure from the ground up. It's expensive to expand and open up new datacenters. However through Azure Appliance, companies like Dell, Fujitsu, HP can order one, pay for it, add a few value-add offerings and start reselling azure cloud service offering.
What I really 'd like to see: Azure on the Windows Server App Fabric
I'm truly excited by this. However, I'm more excited about making sure that the role paradigm which I love is available to me without necessarily paying it based on usage. I'm skeptical whether the existence of Azure Appliance will change this (side note: the Development acellerator core package sounds promising but still too limiting).
What I really like to see is for Microsoft to bring Azure onto the App Fabric offering. When I say Azure here I do not necessarily mean the whole stack of hardware, network, virtualized environments, CDN, table storage and all that. I just mean the development paradigm with Web Roles and Worker Roles. When that happens, we can all forget about virtual directories or even IIS for that matter. All we care about is managing the different Roles and being able to move them in/out of different clouds.