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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.

There's no need to work with the low level software in CPS. Like any cloud, it's best thought of as an appliance (a very large appliance that weighs as much as a herd of small elephants, but an appliance all the same). Everything is delivered through portals, even the information needed to handle operational management. Users get access to a gallery of workloads, which deploy using System Center orchestration runbooks to ensure as much of CPS operations as possible are automated.

Microsoft is aiming to make operating CPS as easy as possible, and its test program has certainly put the system through its paces, simulating a year's worth of damage in a week in order to stress test the hardware and software. In order to do so the product team automated heavy workloads, with test teams behind the racks physically removing power supplies. The resulting stress exposed problems all the way down to drive firmware level.

It's an approach that Spencer Shepler, Principal Program Manager, talks of as "We're raising all boats. All the bugs we have found go to all System Center and Windows Server customers, as all fixes are public." Similarly the CPS team tests updates and gallery items before making them available. "We create a package, validate and then test it on Nebula before deploying it to customers." That's not just the OS, or the applications, it's everything in the deployment pipeline, right down to drive firmware.

The complete specs for a single CPS rack are:

  • Networking:  4 x Force 10 S4810P and 1 x Force 10 S55
  • Compute Scale Unit (32 x Hyper-V hosts): Dell PowerEdge C6220ii 4 Nodes per 2U, with dual socket Intel IvyBridge (E5-2650v2 @ 2.6GHz), 256 GB memory, 2 x 10 GbE Mellanox NIC's (LBFO Team, NVGRE offload), 2 x 10 GbE Chelsio (iWARP/RDMA), 1 local SSD 200 GB(boot/paging)
  • Storage Scale Unit (4 x File servers, 4 x JBODS): Dell PowerEdge R620v2 Servers (4 Server for Scale Out File Server, Dual socket Intel IvyBridge (E5-2650v2 @ 2.6GHz), 2 x LSI 9207-8E SAS Controllers (shared storage), 2 x 10 GbE Chelsio T520 (iWARP/RDMA), PowerVault MD3060e JBODs (48 HDD, 12 SSD), 4 TB HDDs and 800 GB SSDs

It's a dense unit, and can be deployed in groups of four racks. Each group is a separate administrative unit, with storage mixed between triple-mirrored workload storage and double-mirrored backup using deduplicated storage. Set up time, from delivery, should be about four days, with a white glove service from both Microsoft and Dell. Aside from Microsoft's Nebula cloud, four customers are using CPS in a private preview at the moment. General availability will be at the beginning of November.

Shepler notes that the "Economics [of CPS] beat much of what is out there. It's going to be at a different fundamental price point, as we have the advantage of scale purchasing." Microsoft initially planned on using a single server design across CPS, but ended up using two to get the best possible performance from the storage network elements. "We were looking at industry standard, but reducing the number of different components for field replacement. Our approach allows users to stock replacements on premises and in the OEM supply chain."

 

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