News from the Frontline
HP said that its partnership with Microsoft on the Azure platform appliance was an extension to the "Frontline" partnership that the two companies cooked up in January and backed up with $250m to jointly sell and support Windows-based software stacks based on HP's ProLiant x64-based servers, Integrity Itanium-based servers, StorageWorks storage, and what was then called ProCurve networking.
The Windows components include Windows Server 2008 and its Hyper-V virtualization hypervisor, Exchange Server mail server, and SQL Server database programs. Frontline systems will eventually include Microsoft's ERP and BI application software, too. HP said it has put 11,000 people on the Frontline effort, and that there were 32,000 combined HP-Microsoft partners who would be certified to peddle the Frontline stacks.
It's not yet clear what the HP-Microsoft partner angle will be for the Azure platform appliances based on HP iron, but it seems a reasonable guess that this will be a ProLiant-only affair.
HP's announcement said merely that the company was a "primary infrastructure provider" for the Azure platform, and that it will put the Microsoft stack on its ProLiant servers and various networking products (HP doesn't have a brand here any more, other than "Networking" in the wake of the 3Com acquisition).
Also, it will allow customers to deploy the Azure cloudy software on PODs (short for Performance Optimized Datacenters, or what we call containerized data centers) as well as more traditional brick-and-mortar data centers. No word on when any of this will be ready for sale, of course, but HP echoed Dell and said that it was working with Microsoft to get that "limited production" Azure stack deployed in HP's own data centers for customers to use, and then added that it would be able to do so by the end of the year.
Fujitsu didn't say much more, but said that it, too, would be hosting the Azure platform appliance software for customers to use in its Tatebayashi data center by the end of 2010, followed by other locations around the globe. Fujitsu said that it would be running some of its own applications on that hosted version of the Azure stack, and would be selling a line of services to help customers move to cloudy Windows.
Fujitsu will eventually sell and support a complete Azure stack to drop into customer data centers — presumably on Xeon-based Primergy and PrimeQuest servers, and ignoring Itanium-based PrimeQuest boxes — and added that it will train 5,000 consultants to help customers either rent or own Azure appliances for their Windows workloads.
eBay signs up
An eBay partnership with Microsoft regarding Azure, also announced Monday, is more about eBay using the Azure appliance than selling capacity on Azure appliances or selling hardware/software stacks to IT end-user customers. The two companies said that eBay was installing the Azure appliance in two of its data centers sometime this year, and reminded everyone that eBay's iPad listing page (which you can see here) already runs on the public-cloud version of Azure.
Dell, eBay, Fujitsu, and HP are early adopters of the limited production release of the Azure platform appliance stack, and that leaves Microsoft plenty of time to line up the rest of the x64 server and various storage vendors, which have to partner with all the key system-software providers on x64 iron or they can't hope to sell their servers.
So don't think that IBM, Cisco Systems, NEC, Oracle, Silicon Graphics, and maybe even a bunch of whitebox server makers are not eventually going to be invited to the Azure appliance party. Ditto for EMC, NetApp, and a slew of key storage makers. Their invitations are in the mail. And their attendance will be required — eventually, but probably not until later this year and early next, when the kinks of the Azure platform appliance are worked out, other Windows servers are cloudified, and customers are ready to deploy real applications on Microsoft's cloudy stack. ®