The Data Center as an Appliance

Microsoft generated a lot of headlines this week with its new Azure appliance, and rightfully so. The focus has largely been on how the device allows enterprises to tap into instant hybrid clouds by automatically transferring data loads to and from internal and external Azure-based infrastructure.

But is it possible that we could be missing the bigger picture here? Could it be that what we’re actually seeing is a complete data center confined to an appliance?

That’s the take from ZDNet’s David Chernicoff, who points out that, unlike that traditional appliance concept in which one box serves a specific function, the Azure appliance provides all the functionality of a fully containerized data center by providing access to a wide range of Web services. Under this scenario, you simply plug the device in and tap into all of the applications and resources that are available under the Azure label.

At the moment, there are only a handful of hardware platforms on which to base the appliance. Microsoft has cut deals with HP, Dell and Fujitsu to provide pre-configured boxes designed to quickly integrate with legacy infrastructure and then rapidly scale up resources according to user requirements. In HP’s case, for example, you would house the appliance on a ProLiant server, with management coming through the company’s Converged Infrastructure platform or via the HP data center hosting service.

The chief limiting factor in all this, however, is the fact that you are still running a Microsoft cloud available only to Microsoft-compatible platforms. Anyone running VMware, which is a sizable chunk of the enterprise community, is out of luck.

But even that may not hold true for very long with a new generation of technologies designed to break the cloud lock-in paradigm. One of these is called CloudSwitch. As company VP Ellen Rubin describes it, CloudSwitch creates an overlay network within the cloud environment that allows you to migrate virtual servers into that environment, with no software changes or reconfiguration necessary. The connection is seamless and can be carried out through a simple user interface.

Whether or not such a plan will sit well with Microsoft is about as open-ended a question as you can get, however. The company that jealously guards its operating system is not likely to take kindly to someone mucking with its cloud platform, especially if it means letting arch-rival VMware through the door.

Ultimately, though, the trend lines appear to be heading in one direction: Enterprise infrastructure is becoming increasingly easy to acquire — so much so that in a few short years people will be scratching their heads in wonderment at all the time, trouble and expense IT used to be.

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