Companies interested in taking advantage of what cloud computing has to offer, but reluctant to trust sensitive information off-site now have a new alternative with Microsoft's Windows Azure Platform appliance. Microsoft has teamed up with strategic hardware partners to develop an appliance-based approach allowing businesses to deploy and control their own cloud.
Cloud computing provides a variety of benefits for businesses--scalability, efficiency, and high availability being three of the more valuable ones. Traditional data centers are not as agile or flexible in meeting demand. A cloud-based data center allows companies to expand server processing power and/or storage capacity as needed.
The downside for many organizations, though, are the security and compliance implications of processing transactions and communications, or storing sensitive data in a third-party data center. The privacy and ownership of data stored on third-party servers falls into a gray area that law enforcement and the legal system still need to clarify. Compliance frameworks like SOX (Sarbanes-Oxley), HIPAA (Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act), or PCI-DSS (Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard) also need to clearly define the guidelines and requirements for trusting data in the cloud.
These concerns are obstacles to embracing the cloud for many companies. Microsoft hopes to assuage those concerns and provide a solution for customers that lets them take advantage of what cloud computing has to offer, without relinquishing control over their servers or data.
The Windows Azure Platform appliance delivers lower operational costs by requiring a smaller ratio of IT personnel per server, and also by reducing costs associated with power and cooling. The appliance can scale from hundreds, to tens of thousands of servers on demand.
Another important factor for IT administrators is that the Windows Azure Platform appliance integrates with existing data center tools and operations, and provides fault tolerance and self-healing capabilities designed to ensure stability and high availability.
Robert Wahbe, corporate vice president of Microsoft Server and Tools, explains in a post on The Official Microsoft Blog "The appliance is the same Windows Azure platform we run at Microsoft, and includes Windows Azure and SQL Azure on Microsoft-specified hardware. 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 Windows Azure Platform appliance site describes it as "a turn-key cloud solution on highly standardized, preconfigured hardware. Think of it as hundreds of servers in pre-configured racks of networking, storage, and server hardware that are based on Microsoft-specified reference architecture."
The description continues "The Microsoft Windows Azure platform appliance is different from typical server appliances in that it involves hundreds of servers rather than just one node or a few nodes and It is designed to be extensible--customers can simply add more servers--depending upon the customer's needs to scale out their platform."
Dell, eBay, Fujitsu, and HP are committed to deploying the Windows Azure Platform appliance in their data centers to provide cloud services. Microsoft says the appliance is currently in limited production and will be made available soon to a small set of customers and partners. No further details are available yet regarding more general availability.