Advanced Computing in the Age of AI|Saturday, February 27, 2021
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Private Azure Clouds Come To Dell Hardware 

Signaling its shift to a "converged infrastructure" model, Microsoft announced a series of moves this week designed to flesh out its Azure cloud offering, including a preconfigured cloud appliance that combines Windows Server and other Microsoft software with storage and networking hardware provided by partner Dell.

Along with general availability of Microsoft Cloud Platform System "powered by Dell," Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella also unveiled Azure upgrades that include new G-series virtual machines along with "premium" storage and separate Azure partnerships with Cloudera and CoreOS.

The company also announced the general availability of Microsoft Azure in Australia beginning the week of October 27.

The MS Cloud Platform System is described as an "Azure-consistent cloud in a box" that combines Windows Server 2012, System Center 2012, and Windows Azure Pack, the latter being a set of tools for running Azure in a datacenter, with Dell hardware and networking. Microsoft listed Dell PowerEdge servers along with unspecified storage, networking, and other cloud components.

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The Dell-powered Microsoft cloud "takes our learnings from running Azure in the public cloud and builds that into a pre-integrated solution with hardware from Dell and software from Microsoft," Jason Zander, Microsoft's corporate vice president, explained in a blog post.

In other words, industry analysts noted, Microsoft is entering the "converged infrastructure" market in which software and hardware are integrated, bundled, and made generally available in an easy to deploy package.

Microsoft said Dell hardware being integrated with the new Azure platform includes increments of up to four racks. Each rack includes 512 cores across 32 servers running dual socket Intel Ivy Bridge CPUs. Storage includes 8 TB of main memory allocated at 256 GB per server along with 282 TB of usable storage.

Networking includes 1,360 Gb/s of internal rack connectivity, 560 Gb/s connections between racks and up to 60 Gb/s of external connectivity, the partners said.

That means a single rack can support up to 2,000 virtual machines, scaling to 8,000 VMs in a full four-rack configuration. Microsoft said it is flexible about how customers configure their VM dimensions.

Microsoft's end of the bargain includes the second releases of Windows Server 2012 and System Center along with the Azure Pack self-service portal. Together, Microsoft said the bundle promises to eliminate the need for "retooling" to operate the combined Azure cloud platform.

As it targets converged infrastructure, Microsoft commissioned a white paper aimed at supporting its foray into that emerging market. The study compared pricing for Microsoft's new cloud platform system against comparable offerings from Hewlett-Packard, IBM, and VCE.

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While the company-sponsored study found that the Microsoft-Dell appliance was among the most expensive ($1.64 million for a full rack of Dell hardware with 32 systems nodes, or 512 cores), deployment costs were judged to be substantially lower since those costs are built into the Dell hardware price, according to the white paper.

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Microsoft's other Azure announcements this week included Intel Xeon-based "G-series" virtual machines that are said to be the largest available for public cloud applications. An Azure "Premium Storage" offering seeks to upgrade performance per virtual machine as more demanding workloads move to the cloud.

The software giant also announced that Cloudera, the enterprise analytics and data management specialist, along with CoreOS, a container-based Linux operating system, are joining its Azure Marketplace ecosystem. Other members include Docker and Oracle.

Microsoft noted that more than 40 percent of Azure revenue now comes from independent software vendors and startups.

About the author: George Leopold

George Leopold has written about science and technology for more than 30 years, focusing on electronics and aerospace technology. He previously served as executive editor of Electronic Engineering Times. Leopold is the author of "Calculated Risk: The Supersonic Life and Times of Gus Grissom" (Purdue University Press, 2016).

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