WASHINGTON, D.C.-Microsoft executives took the stage here July 12, on the first morning of the company's Worldwide Partner Conference (WPC), to promote a vision of the IT giant as robust despite a shaky economy and rapidly changing tech landscape. As part of that, the company announced Windows Azure Platform Appliance, a service that brings Windows Azure's cloud-development capabilities to a company's data center, and more concrete information on "Dallas," which pulls together enterprise and cloud data in a way that allows companies to make more informed decisions.
The nearly weeklong WPC is a chance for Microsoft to tout the benefits of the company's partner network, and offer those 9,500 partners a wide variety of events such as hands-on labs. Each day starts with a high-profile keynote in the city's Verizon Center arena.
Bob Muglia, president of Microsoft's Server & Tools Business, took the stage to announce Windows Azure Platform Appliance, yet another initiative in the company's overarching attempt to move into the cloud space. The Appliance is an offshoot of Windows Azure, which Muglia described as a "general-purpose cloud platform" loaded with a broad set of capabilities, allowing developers to create applications.
"It's important for our partners to build their own public and private clouds, within their own data center," Muglia told the audience. "Today, I'm proud to announce the introduction of the Windows Azure Platform Appliance. Fundamentally, it takes the Windows Azure service and extends it, allowing you to run its exact same capability in your data centers."
Muglia took pains to highlight the service nature of the offering. "It's a service coming from Microsoft and run in your own data center ... that you then run on hardware you own or have rented within our own data center," he said. "Our plan is to make all Azure capabilities able to run within the appliance."
The best analogy, Muglia added, is a set-top box for cable or satellite television. "When you have your television, you are getting a service through your television provider," he said. "You turn on the TV and it works. But you control which channels you want to watch, and so on. That's exactly what we're doing with the Windows Azure client."
The Windows Azure Platform Applications will roll out later in 2010, Muglia said, but he did not offer a more specific timeframe.
He also offered the audience more details on another cloud-based program, code-named "Dallas," which he called an "information marketplace" for enterprise and Web data. Commercial availability is scheduled for the fourth quarter of 2010.
Users logged into the "Dallas" dashboard can browse for either public data-such as a United Nations demographic data set-or private data uploaded into the system. The application is capable of drilling into a data set, displaying details such as data-column metadata.
In addition to being able to provision data as a service, "Dallas" lets users apply analytical tools to that data; a few clicks can load programs such as Powerpivot Integration or Tableau Integration, which in turn can be used to manipulate the necessary data points. Once a data set has been worked on, it can be shared with either the wider world-via embedding HTML code into a blog or Webpage-or more privately, via e-mail.
"Dallas," along with Windows Azure, represents Microsoft's attempt to create a competitive differentiator in the cloud space-where it faces companies such as Salesfore.com in the software-as-a-service arena, and Amazon.com with infrastructure-as-a-service. Microsoft's counterclaim, as Muglia insisted onstage, is that it will provide a more holistic solution for companies-what he called "IT as a service."