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Microsoft's big Azure announcement is a Cloud in a Box

Simon Bisson | Oct. 21, 2014
Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella and Cloud and Enterprise EVP Scott Guthrie used an event in San Francisco today to give an update on its Azure cloud platform, launching its on premises Cloud Platform System and the Azure Marketplace, where ISVs and developers can sell services and applications to Azure users.

So what do you get with the CPS? The key component is its portal, built around the Windows Azure Pack Portal. That's where the Azure-consistent UI comes in, with administrator and tenant portals. Administrators can just deploy services for users, or they can construct cellphone-like plans that can be used to manage services for different business units and classes of user.

Mark Jewett, CPS's Director Product Marketing, notes what's different from other software defined data center platforms is, "We're not focused on virtualization, we're focused on delivering a cloud way of working. [...] It's really about that cloud model, where you provide end users with an environment that they feel have control."

CPS is clearly a complete software defined data center solution: all the infrastructure is deployed as virtual machines, running on bare metal hypervisors, with virtual networking. The only physical element is the storage stack. There's no need to touch the physical networking, as everything is handled via the Hyper-V virtual networking tools, allowing users' virtual infrastructures to be isolated from each other.

So what goes into the CPS? It's a hefty beast, with the minimum unit a single rack of compute, networking and storage units all packed in tightly. There's plenty of capacity, with a full four rack setup you can run up to 8000 virtual machines, and work with 0.7PB of storage space (using Microsoft's SMB 3.0-based Scale-out File Server). It's a fault tolerant system, at every level from basic hardware up. Once in place there's nothing you need to do, it's all preconfigured and predeployed, ready to go.

Each CPS unit is based on a standard 42U rack, with 512 cores and 8TB RAM, with 262TBof usable storage. There's 160GB/s of internal connectivity, with of 20GB/s external networking. It's not light, weighing 2322lbs and you're going to need 16.6KW of power. Storage is in 4 storage servers, with 4 JBODs, and the compute servers are Dell PowerEdges with dual socket IvyBridge-class processors.

Tewari notes that this is all based on what Microsoft runs internally. "We're extreme dogfooding," he says as he describes Microsoft's Nebula, the codename for its internal cloud. Inside Microsoft the Nebula cloud runs over 90 thousand VMs, and it sets up and tears down 20 thousand VMs a day.

CPS builds on existing Microsoft clustering tools, with a rack offering 32 separate compute nodes; 24 of which can be used for your own workloads. The remaining 6 nodes are used to handle management, running the System Center tools for virtual machine, configuration and cluster management. There's support for Azure Site Recovery, so you can use the public cloud to orchestrate disaster recovery using the runbooks that automate CPS operations.


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