Microsoft’s “Azure in a transport container” offering could play a prominent role in its cyber-sovereignty and “special cloud” efforts in the coming year. Announced last fall, the Azure Modular Data Center, or MDC, is an Azure data center in a transport container that is delivered to remote locations on a truck platform. It runs under the Azure Stack Hub (at the moment) and can work without a connection or via satellite. In addition to the data center device itself, Azure MDC is interesting for a number of reasons.
When Microsoft announced MDC last October, many readers and commenters wondered why Microsoft had once again hit out at the idea of Azure in a container. After all, Microsoft has been experimenting with Azure in transport containers since 2008 – a couple of years after other tech companies like Sun Microsystems (with “Project Blackbox,” back in 2006) – promoted the concept of a data center in a container.
Bill Karagounis of Microsoft, who is currently the general manager of Azure Global Industry Sovereign Solutions, gave the following answer to this question: “In the past, container solutions required operators, and they were individualized when implemented. Azure MDC adds value by running the Azure OS. with familiar APIs, resource management, and cloud portal; these are very different from previous container solutions. Azure MDC modules are already used in defense and private sector organizations.”
According to Karagounis, this, combined with advances in computing and networking, heating / cooling systems and other related technologies, made the time right for the transition to a container-based approach. Companies that are in the process of migrating to the cloud may want to take advantage of prefabricated data centers, where they can continue to work locally while increasing capacity. Users can be attracted by the pay-as-you-go business model offered for MDC.
“The company is committed to building back-up infrastructure to support 5G, smart cities and edge computing, going far beyond the content delivery network that previously required “edge” needs, and radically improving the quality of service. Fast deployable and small data centers fill this gap well with the ability to run highly optimized edge scenarios with a public cloud application model when the data center is unavailable or takes a long time to configure, ” added Karagounis.
However, there are several other reasons why Microsoft decided to go the container route with MDC: Azure MDC is by definition a peripheral computing device, and Microsoft has slowly and steadily built a stable line of intelligent peripherals. Microsoft’s alleged lack of tactical peripherals, which AWS refers to in an unpublished complaint about Microsoft’s JEDI victory, is one of the key areas in which AWS has said it has a clear advantage over Azure.
These devices are the “tactical edge” that were part of the JEDI RFP; these are the ones that are suitable for operating environments with the ability to connect limited connections and storage availability. These devices included both high-strength portable devices, such as Microsoft Azure Stack Edge Pro computers, and modular, fast-deployable data centers. In October, Microsoft officials said that Azure MDC modules were “initially used by defense and private sector organizations.”
Microsoft seems to use the terms “sovereign” and “special cloud” mostly interchangeable on their website. A product like Azure MDC is specifically designed for this sovereign / dedicated cloud / government space. Right now, Azure MDC is running Microsoft’s hybrid computing offering, the Azure Stack Hub. But it looks like it won’t always be that way – or just that – based on the information Microsoft shared with me last year. As Azure’s presence continues to grow globally, the installed base of Azure MDC may also increase.