WAPA: Microsoft in a Box

If you were listening to the waves generated by Microsoft at its Worldwide Partner Conference you probably realized that the announcement of offering Windows Azure in a box (a big, big box) is an interesting move. WAPA, or Windows Azure Platform Appliance, is the latest announcement of Microsoft's cloud offering. It basically consists of the complete Azure offering in chunks of expandable mini data centers (hundreds or thousands of servers at a time). So while that's not for your personal home computing needs, large corporations and governments can now run Azure on their own.

Or so the story goes... according to the marketing buzz.... 

In my mind, things are a bit different. I do not see WAPA as an evolution of cloud computing. Looking at WAPA as Azure in a Box is a bit simplistic. Sure, it's really cool and will get many to ride along, including eBay. But that was nothing more but a logical move. 

Instead, look at what happened recently to the underlying platform capabilities: Windows Azure is teaching developers that it's OK not to have access to the D: drive and that accessing blobs is just as good;  that developing secured applications is not as difficult as it used to be thanks to the Windows Identity Framework; that creating databases without having to worry about storage performance and Page Life Expectancy is actually OK too...

Azure is teaching us that developing applications and services is all we really need to worry about. And it's actually working!!!

However it wasn't easy. First Microsoft learned from its early debut in large enterprise computing with its Data Center editions with HP, Dell, Unisys and Fujitsu. While it was an interesting move, few actually bought into the concept of running Microsoft on large computing platforms. It was just too hard, and not big enough.

Microsoft's own products were stepping on each other when consolidating them on a single O/S instance. So Microsoft had to create many new technologies, and even morph existing ones. Take SQL Azure for example: it was born by taking features away from SQL Server; features that prevented true scalability and ubiquitous deployment, such as encryption (due to certificates), backups (due to the file system requirements), low-level  configuration settings that vary from machine to machine... and so on.

Microsoft learned quickly from those early challenges and reinvented itself and its products to deliver the software, services and underlying operating systems that are necessary to run highly reliable operations. After breaking SQL Server apart and slowly rebuilding under the cover of cloud computing, and improving its operating system and deployment model, Microsoft decided to eat its own dog food by running its own data centers with its own software. That was the only way to actually make progress: learn the hard way.

And now that it's all getting to a point where it's actually running and getting reliable, we have WAPA. But it's really not Azure in a Box. It's much more; it's a decade worth of learning experiences, inventions, advancements and risk taking... it's really Microsoft in a box.

Good job Microsoft. It sure was a bold move.


Print | posted @ Monday, July 12, 2010 8:57 PM

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