Microsoft recently announced new private and hybrid cloud management capabilities in the next version of System Center 2012.
System Center 2012, which has a targeted release of late 2011, adds the much needed capability of managing cloud instances running on-premises or in the public Azure cloud without having to use two different management applications. But it’s not just about management capabilities. System Center 2012 also enables development of a hybrid environment, where some applications (or parts of applications) run on-premises, and some in the public Azure cloud.
This is a welcome capability for current and future Azure customers, but when you look at Azure’s private and hybrid cloud story, it’s obvious that Microsoft has an uphill battle ahead of them.
Azure Private/Hybrid Cloud Story
Microsoft’s Private and Hybrid cloud story is a tough sell. The private and hybrid cloud offering is made possible with the Windows Azure Platform Appliance. Basically, this is a collection of servers that are pre-configured to Microsoft’s specifications that are delivered to your datacenter.
Is Azure Appliance a Viable Option?
Technically speaking, if the Azure Appliance delivers, it will be a fantastic piece of technology. The question is, will customers adopt it? I think Azure’s solution for private and hybrid clouds is flawed in a couple ways. The first is obvious, and that’s availability.
The Windows Azure Appliance is currently in Limited Production Release to a small set of customers and partners. However, Fujitsu and Microsoft recently announced the first release of Fujitsu’s Global Cloud Platform service running in Fujitsu’s datacenter in Japan.
Although there isn’t any official word yet on when it will be available, I suspect the availability problem will be remedied soon – my guess is Q2 or Q3 2012. But with only one partner announced, and no time lines, this remains a huge issue.
The second problem Azure faces is the size of the appliance.
Since the Azure Appliances have yet to launch, we do not yet know the sizes that will be available, but reading between the lines, they will initially be quite large. Microsoft, on their Azure Appliance web page, describes the appliance as “hundreds of servers in pre-configured racks of networking, storage, and server hardware that are based on Microsoft-specified reference architecture”.
The problem with this is pretty obvious – only the largest organizations will be able to afford an appliance that size. And since these organizations all currently have their own infrastructure and staff to manage that infrastructure, what is the likelihood that they will sell off those assets, lay off a large portion of their IT staff and adopt the appliance model?
As with the availability problem, I think Microsoft and its appliance partners will eventually resolve this problem, and I suspect we’ll see Azure appliances in the 1-3 server range eventually. The third flaw, IT Management confidence, is in my opinion their biggest hurdle.
IT Management Confidence
This one is a bit more subtle, as it cannot be easily pinpointed like the size and availability issues. But I see a confidence problem in the Azure appliance approach.
Late to the Game
The first confidence problem Microsoft faces is a Johnny-come-lately syndrome. Microsoft is, in typical Microsoft fashion, late to the private/hybrid cloud game. Though it’s still early as cloud computing in general is very new, Microsoft is playing catch-up with VMware.
Potential Investment Loss
The second confidence problem they face is that many companies have already made a significant investment in not only infrastructure, but VMware technology running on that infrastructure. So when these companies decide they want to move to a private or hybrid cloud, they can either keep their current investment and add new, familiar capabilities on their existing stack, or they can completely switch directions, buy an Azure Appliance, and lose much of their existing investment. Not an easy sell, especially given how disruptive that would be to processes and policies in the enterprise.
It’s this hard sell that I believe will shake IT Management confidence the most. I think Microsoft is going to have to figure out a way to make the move to the cloud more subtle, and not force companies to forfeit existing investments.
The Right Solution?
So is the Azure Appliance the right private and hybrid cloud solution? Can Microsoft overcome the availability, sizing and confidence problems? Only time will tell.