Advanced Computing in the Age of AI|Thursday, December 3, 2020
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Azure Joins AWS in Space 

Source: SpaceX

The public cloud competition is heading into Earth orbit.

As more satellite constellations are launched to provide space-based broadband connections, public cloud vendors are ramping up plans to launch cloud computing services that circle high above our planet.

Amazon Web Services (NASDAQ: AMZN) gained regulatory approval earlier this year for its $10 billion Project Kuiper, a constellation of 3,236 satellites that would deliver broadband links across the U.S. Some observers see it as a response to the Starlink constellation being launched by SpaceX. Others see it as a key addition to the AWS ecosystem that already offers cloud computing, data analytics and machine learning services.

More evidence for both interpretations surfaced this week when Microsoft announced a partnership with SpaceX Starlink to provide satellite-based broadband connections to its new Azure Modular Datacenter. The self-contained data centers meet growing demand for edge computing in remote locations.

The modular design includes a satellite communications option. “In the event of a network disruption, the network high-availability module will move traffic from the impacted network to a backup satellite connection,” the cloud vendor explained in a blog post.

Source: Microsoft

Along with network redundancy, Microsoft is pitching its Azure Space initiative as a fast, secure satellite network connection to its cloud computing service. The effort builds on previous satellite communications partnerships, including satcom vendor SES to extend network connectivity cloud regions and edge devices.

“Our approach is to supply a multi-orbit, multi-band, multi-vendor, cloud-enabled capability to bring comprehensive satellite connectivity solutions,” Tom Keane, Azure Global’s corporate vice president, noted in a blog post.

Microsoft’s (NASDAQ: MSFT) partnership with SpaceX adds low-latency satellite broadband connectivity for edge data centers in the event of terrestrial network outage, Keane added.

Meanwhile, the AWS satellite constellation will initially provide broadband services to remote locations not reached by fiber or wireless networks. Still, observers note that the long-term strategy is to provide connections to the public cloud leader’s computing, storage and data analytics ecosystem.

Microsoft Azure partner SpaceX continues to build out its Starlink constellation. It launched the latest batch of 60 satellites earlier this week, expanding the orbiting communications fleet to 835 satellites. The commercial space pioneer reportedly intends to launch at least 120 satellites per month.

“We can connect via satellite link any element on the earth to another point on the earth, which I think goes extremely well with the technologies [Microsoft] is trying to build out, especially leveraging the Azure infrastructure,” SpaceX President Gwynne Shotwell said in announcing the space cloud deal.

The other player providing broadband Internet services from space, OneWeb, filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in March. Its assets were sold earlier this month to the British government and Indian communications vendor Bharti Global (NSE: BHARTIARTL). The sale allows OneWeb to continue deploying a constellation of 650 satellites.

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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