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VARs eye Azure appliance, love Aurora

Azure in a box will appeal to largest orgs at first, new Aurora SBS will be useful in the nearer term, VARs said.

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- Microsoft's promised Azure in a box won't be available to VARs for quite some time, but many of them like the idea.

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Working with select hardware partners, Microsoft is "productizing" the hardware configuration on which it runs its own Azure cloud services. Dell, Hewlett-Packard, Fujitsu and potentially other hardware makers will be able to sell that "appliance" to service providers and large customers.

Eventually, the appliance will come in other form factors enabling VARs to run the appliance in their own data centers for customers or to implement it on customer sites.

"Over time, we will make it both bigger and smaller," Bob Muglia, president of Microsoft's server and tools business, told reporters at the Microsoft Worldwide Partner Conference 2010 here.

The appliance represents Microsoft's first step to accommodate users who chafed at the notion of putting all of their data in a public cloud.

No pricing or other details were provided. The first products are due later this year, but some partners, especially custom app development shops, were jazzed at the idea.

"The 'appliance' tag is a bit misleading because it's not really an appliance but a turnkey software solution to run Azure in-house. It's targeted at large orgs because those are the ones that would benefit most from it. It is really a great idea and beautiful in its engineering," said Tim Huckaby, CEO of Interknowlogy, a Carlsbad, Calif., Microsoft partner.

Microsoft Azure went commercial in February and Microsoft claims 10,000 paying customers. While many VARs seem to think it's not baked enough to embrace, there were several show attendees that have done more than kick the tires.

On a Worldwide Partner Conference panel, Jurgen Rudy Engert, an executive with Invensys Operations Management in Plano, Texas, talked about using Azure to provide real-time pricing for an energy smart grid application. "Our consumers are devices that need this pricing information. Before, we couldn't deliver the price to the consumer in real time so we created a microcosm of a smart grid using Azure. Invensys went into the cloud so our customers didn't have to," Engert said

Tom Cole, CEO of RDA Corp., in Hunt Valley, Md., said, with Azure, his company can much more easily design and implement proof-of-concepts without investing in hardware and other infrastructure.

RDA won a contract to build an ordering system for a manufacturer that has to deal with 30,000 parts. "They modify their catalog four times a year and they absolutely wanted this done on premises."

RDA told the customer it could build an in-house infrastructure and application that the company could use four times a year and pay for all year long, or it could "spin up an Azure instance and two weeks later take it down," Cole said.

"This way they pay for it in four months versus 12 months," he noted.

Aurora brings hybrid cloud to small businesses, VARs

Of more interest to VARs supporting smaller businesses is the new "Aurora" server, a new version of Microsoft Small Business Server due this summer. Microsoft says that Aurora will act as a small business's portal to the cloud but will also allow a company to keep data on premises. It will be Small Business Server but with Exchange Server stripped out so it can be used with hosted Exchange services "in the cloud" from diverse providers and a simple dashboard.

SBS Aurora builds on Windows Server 2008 R2 SP1 adding automated backup and restore and an easy-to-use dashboard to enable the business to easily add and delete users remotely and perform other management tasks.

The dashboard resembles Remote Web Workplace (RWW) found in the current Small Business Server and Windows Home Serve. "It's a great feature that many enterprises would love," said Aaron Booker, a consultant and former VAR based in Bellingham, Wash.

Aurora targets "small businesses, maybe BPOS customers that need local file and print and other services," said Robert Wahbe, corporate vice president for Microsoft server and tools marketing. BPOS, or Business Productivity Online Suite, is Microsoft-hosted SharePoint, Exchange Server and Live Meeting.

WWPC attendees can sign up for the beta now.

Let us know what you think about the story; email Barbara Darrow, Senior News Director at, or follow us on twitter.

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