Microsoft prepares Azure to compete with Amazon EC2

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Cloud computing means a lot of different things. As mostly focuses on virtual data centers technologies, our interest for cloud computing is, at the moment, limited to those architectures known as Infrastructure-as-a-Service (IaaS), where a hypervisor meets an orchestration framework and generates a scalable, pay-per-use, on-demand virtual infrastructure.

Our attention of course also focuses on the many shapes that IaaS clouds can have, like the Server-as-a-Service (nobody every used this term so far, but the industry may do it at a point) or the imminent Desktop-as-a-Service architectures (DaaS).
Thus closely monitors both IaaS service providers (like Amazon, IBM, Rackspace, tuCloud, etc.) and IaaS technology providers (like Citrix, Desktone, Skytap, VMware, etc.).

Soon enough we are going to cover Microsoft as well.

Right now the Microsoft cloud computing effort, called Azure, is recognized as a Platform-as-a-Service (PaaS) architecture that competes with Google AppEngine and, maybe, one day, with the result of a complex technology merge between VMware, SpringSource and Terremark.

But Microsoft is moving to extend the Azure capabilities to also become a IaaS cloud, which can compete with Amazon Elastic Computing Cloud (EC2), the Rackspace Cloud, etc. And, again, with whatever VMware and Terremark are planning to do together.

First of all there’s a new Cloud Computing section in the Microsoft virtualization website, and inside it, a Private Cloud sub-section that specifically mentions Azure.

Secondarily, Microsoft launched a new blog about the private clouds concept called Dynamic Data Center Alliance Blog, where the message currently addresses the hosting providers by promoting a new, free Dynamic Data Center Toolkit for Hosters:

…The Toolkit is end-to-end prescriptive guidance for creating managed services and partner hosted Cloud offerings using the virtualization infrastructure of Windows Server 2008 / Hyper-V coupled with System Center. That means we give you the straightforward guidance to bring Windows Server 2008 and System Center together, overlaid with rich web services to integrate the underlining virtualization infrastructure into your existing environment. Once the virtualization infrastructure and web services have been combined, you’re now set to deliver a topnotch Cloud offering. Utilizing the toolkit, hosters can deploy on-demand virtual machine (VM) provisioning via customer facing portals that provide self-service visibility and management…

The newest articles in this blog already points to an upcoming Dynamic Data Center Toolkit for the Enterprise.
Nowhere here Microsoft mentions Azure but there are cross links that hint at the IaaS future of the cloud architecture:

…With Windows Server 2008 R2 our fabric capabilities become even stronger. In this release, we deliver enhancements to the native virtualization capabilities:

  • Live Migration
  • Larger VM Support: 32 and 64-bit VMs, with up to 64GB memory per VM
  • Boot from VHD & Clustered Shared Volumes (core enhancements from Windows Azure)

To net this out, we’re bringing the lessons learned from our public cloud to the places where they will likely deliver the most benefit in the near term – right in your data center. As we evolve the technology that drives Azure, you can count on continued innovation and evolution of our premises technology that will make private cloud computing a reality…

The rumors floating around tell that Microsoft is testing the IaaS capabilities of Azure right now, and that a formal launch is not far away.

So far VMware scored a remarkable interest and support for its vCloud initiative, but an early appearance of this Hyper-V powered Azure and the recently announced Xen Cloud Platform may make a complete dominance of the cloud computing space harder to achieve. 
There’s nothing concrete yet, but it seems clear that Microsoft and Citrix are not going to let VMware play alone like in the early days of server virtualization.