Microsoft delivers Azure cloud capabilities to the ‘tactical edge’
Microsoft Corp. is teaming up with Dell Technologies Inc.’s Dell EMC subsidiary to deliver cloud services to the “tactical edge,” by which they mean remote locations where network connectivity leaves a lot to be desired and mobility and portability are essential requirements.
The companies today announced two new products to enable this, including the Dell EMC Tactical Microsoft Azure Stack and Azure Data Box. Designed to support the U.S. military, as well as humanitarian efforts and disaster response operations, the products will be made available to U.S. government agencies.
The Tactical Microsoft Azure Stack offering is based on the standard Azure Stack platform, which is essentially a private cloud offering for enterprises that brings Microsoft Azure cloud capabilities to their own data centers. The offering will be sold through Dell EMC and is a “ruggedized” appliance and software combo that allows military customers and government agencies to spin up cloud services and appliances in remote environments, just as they can in on-premises data centers.
The stacks are fully mobile and portable and meet the U.S. military’s specifications and security requirements, the companies said. They also provide optional connectivity to Microsoft’s Azure Government, Azure Secret and Azure Top Secret regions.
Azure Data Box meanwhile is actually a family of products that includes Azure Data Box Edge, Azure Data Box Gateway, Azure Data Box Disk and Azure Data Box Heavy. These products are designed to help process and transfer data in edge-based scenarios while offering some machine learning capabilities, Microsoft said.
“As U.S. government agencies support missions around the world, in remote locations, and beyond the reach of standard infrastructure, new technology is required for mission success,” Tad Brockway, general manager of Azure Storage & Azure Stack, wrote in a blog post. “Azure Stack and our Data Box family of products help government agencies with remote operations access the information they need to make decisions at the edge, along with access to the full range of cloud data analytics as connectivity allows.”
Today’s announcement follows Microsoft’s release last year of a version of the Azure Stack on-premises cloud platform tailored specifically for U.S. government agencies. Azure Stack for Azure Government unlocked a wide range of hybrid cloud use cases for government customers. Now, with today’s offerings those same customers can connect the tactical edge to the Azure Government Cloud and operate with “full regulatory compliance and the most up-to-date edge capabilities.”
Microsoft is bidding for a massive, $10 billion cloud computing contract with the U.S. Department of Defense. The so-called Joint Enterprise Defense Infrastructure contract is important because it involves hosting much of the Pentagon’s information technology infrastructure for the next 10 years, and whoever wins it would be well-placed to win additional government cloud contracts.
One of the JEDI contract requirements is that the winning bidder can provide “ruggedized” computing platforms like this one from Microsoft that can operate in harsh environments such as battlefields. Even so, the clear favorite to land the JEDI contract in particular is Amazon Web Services Inc., which last year announced its competing Snowball Edge product as a tool for the DOD to “collect data and analyze data in remote locations.” Moreover, AWS currently has a higher government security certification than Microsoft.
Analyst Holger Mueller of Constellation Research Inc. said that cloud stacks are increasingly moving offline as organizations look to run workloads at the edge for performance and security reasons.
“Azure Stack together with hardware partners like Dell allows government users to bring Azure cloud capabilities to edge locations, as well as less connected scenarios as oil rigs, cruise ships and mines,” Mueller said. “This means more options to deploy next-generation applications across one consistent compute plan that spans the public cloud as well as offline use cases.”
Microsoft said the Dell EMC Tactical Microsoft Azure Stack will be made available in the U.S. in the first quarter, with other countries to follow later in the year.
Azure Data Box Edge, which provide artificial intelligence enabled compute capabilities, is currently available in preview via the Azure Government cloud. Azure Data Box Gateway, which is a virtual storage appliance, will become available in March 2019. The Azure Data Box Disk and Azure Data Box Heavy appliances for transferring data to the cloud will become available in mid-2019, Microsoft said.