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Choosing Between Azure and VMM Private Clouds

Now if only they’d franchise Azure we’d really be cookin’

I’ve spent the past day reviewing all that’s floating around the Interwebs on the Azure announcements from the WPC this week. There are definitely a lot of nice nuggets to digest and stuff that’s going to take a while to process. Most of the Azure talk at WPC has been, as expected, about how partners can benefit from and build solutions on top of Azure. That’s a compelling message and one I think Microsoft got 100% correct. Now if only they’d franchise Azure we’d really be cookin’ ;). But what about enterprise customers using Azure? Since enterprise virtualization is the overwhelming topic here on The Virtual DC, I’m going to focus on that rather than the partner angle.

One thing that struck me straight away today was a comment from Bob Muglia in a CNET interview:

Businesses and hosters will want to offer their own clouds he said, and Microsoft will have tools for them, but Azure isn’t their answer. Instead, he said, Windows Server, System Center, and Virtual Machine Manager will get a lot better at operating in a cloud-based environment, while still offering customers lots more choice.”We will be taking our Virtual Machine Manager product and evolve it over time to much more straightforwardly allow customers to build their own private cloud,” Muglia said.”

I do like the idea of them embracing private clouds with VMM, a logical step when competing against VMware and vCloud, but then I pause. Will Azure ever compete against vCloud? vCloud is designed to allow enterprise customers to build a services-based application bundle in-house (ie running in a private cloud) and then push that entire application service bundle up to a service provider also running VMware and supporting vCloud (ie the public cloud). Build at home, push to the cloud. Makes sense. When people think private cloud, they think vCloud.

But Azure is different than vCloud: it’s a service and development cloud, closer to Google Apps than vCloud. If Azure proper won’t support private clouds (and I’m making a huge leap of assumptions on definitions here, but I’m going with that data I have), either because MS has chosen not to or because private dev clouds don’t make much sense (yet), here’s my question:

Will an enterprise looking at a branded Microsoft cloud solution have to choose between a private cloud vs. Azure? If the goal is to build everything in-house, then a private cloud on VMM makes sense. If the goal is to develop a MS service-based application for and running in the cloud, then Azure makes sense.But these are two distinctly different use cases, a binary decision based on what type of cloud I’m looking for. In other words if I write an app for Azure, do I need a private cloud running on VMM at all? Customers will choose to re-write their application for Azure and possibly choose to run their MS apps completely hosted in Azure – on one of the Azure services listed here – or they’ll build a private cloud in-house and run everything locally.

I guess my hold up here is getting my brain around the Azure model when compared to vCloud. With vCloud, I get the idea of building my application in-house in a virtualized environment and then shipping that application – lock, stock, and barrel – off to my vCloud provider for remote hosting in the cloud. But Azure is different: if I start building an app from scratch to run on Azure I’m going to build it on Azure, in the cloud already. I won’t need to build it in-house first and ship it anywhere; it’s already there.

Maybe I’m comparing apples to oranges here and I shouldn’t even be thinking about private clouds, yet there is a lot of talk about private clouds from Microsoft – even from Bob Muglia – so I have to somehow equate the two. They’re comparing and contrasting Azure with private clouds, creating a message that they’re the same type of cloud, yet one is for home and one is remote.

Maybe the model will be to build some apps on Azure and run some apps in-house on my VMM private cloud, and then use the new interoperability between 2008 and Azure to let the apps running on Azure become extensions of my private cloud. Maybe my Sharepoint web tier is run in-house but my Sharepoint search and data tiers are run in Azure to keep storage and processing off my network and out of my private cloud.

Does Microsoft have it right in keeping Azure and private clouds completely separate for enterprise customers because they are in fact two different beasts, yet saying they’ll work together? Or is Microsoft comparing the two because it’s not yet sure how customers will use and embrace Azure?

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