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Oct 20 2014

Microsoft Launches “Cloud Appliance”

While they may claim the opposite in public, many companies still encounter huge problems when trying to set up reliable cloud infrastructures and services. Sometimes the complexities of system definition, hardware integration and software deployment stop a project dead in its tracks; sometimes completed projects fail to yield the expected results. To help its customers avoid such troubles, Microsoft decided to build a hardware-based solution – known under the moniker "San Diego" – in spring 2013.

18 months later, the one-time project has morphed into a marketable product that was introduced by Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella and Microsoft EVP Cloud and Enterprise Scott Guthrie at the Company's Cloud Day in San Francisco. Now dubbed Microsoft Cloud Platform System (CPS), the package combines all required hard- and software in a single rack that's supposed to work as an on-premises cloud appliance. According to the specs given on the Windows Server Blog, each unit consists of

  • 32 dual-socket servers equipped with a total of 512 Intel® Xeon® E5-2650v2 processors
  • 256 GB of main memory per server (8 TB total)
  • 282 TB of usable storage
  • Windows Server 2012 R2
  • Microsoft System Center 2012 R2
  • Windows Azure Pack

To achieve maximum performance, the system designers also added a matching amount of connectivity, specifically 1,360 Gb/s internal bandwidth, 560 Gb/s for connections between CPS racks, and 60 Gb/s for connections to "the external world" – meaning, most likely, any client system that tries to hook up with the CPS. Given these specifications, it is hardly surprising that Microsoft claims each 32-server unit may house up to 2,000 VMs, each of which would be equipped with two virtual CPUs, 1.75 GB of RAM, and 50 GB disk space. A full-fledged four rack configuration therefore has enough oomph to power 8,000 VMs. To prevent outages and ensure disaster resilience, all core components were laid out redundantly. Moreover, Microsoft included a number of 'comfort functions' such as integrated virus protection, fabric-based backup for all VMs, orchestrated patching, REST-based APIs, and automation via PowerShell.

This is most certainly an ambitious project, and given Microsoft's recent ventures into the mobile market, one can't help but wonder whether the new management might be considering a more integrated business model, i.e. enhancing its traditional software business with a division that produces custom-built hardware for special application scenarios. However, even Redmond doesn't have the resources to build a massive, and massively complex, system like CSP from scratch – which is why it runs on server hardware from Dell.

According to the official press release, Microsoft CPS will be available for purchase on November 3, 2014 – whether worldwide or just in the U.S. remains to be seen. More information is available from the company's Cloud Platform website and at this year's TechEd Europe conference, which takes place in Barcelona next week (October 28 to 31).


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