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Microsoft gave its Azure cloud offering a makeover on Monday, with new virtual machine classes in its public cloud, and a partnership with Dell to sell hardware pre-configured for on-premises Azure clouds. 

The new G family virtual machines are a challenge to Amazon Web Services (AWS) with Microsoft's vice president for cloud, Scott Guthrie (below), promising that with up to 450GB of RAM, they can have twice as much memory as Amazon's largest virtual machine. The Dell deal is only the first for on-premises Azure, Guthrie promised, as others are welcome to license the Azure Cloud Platform System.

Still trailing Amazon?
Azure is still well behind AWS, but Microsoft claims to be catching up fast, with a $4.4 billion annualized run rate based on recent business. The company also claimed to have more cloud "regions" than its rivals, which is important as customers want their data stored locally. With the forthcoming prospect of two Azure regions in Australia, Microsoft will have 19 regions which it says is twice what Amazon offers and six times what Google can muster.

The new "G family" virtual machine classes can go as high as 32 cores, with 450 GB RAM, and 6.5 TB of local SSD storage. There's also a premium storage option which allows up to 32TB per VM, with 50,000 IOPS and a promise of less than 1ms latency.

The co-branding initiative with Dell offers pre-configured racks of servers which can run Azure out of the box. It has been dismissed by some as merely a re-branding of Windows Server, but Microsoft claims it is more. With integration and certification included, it's aimed at reassuring large customers including government and cloud providers, and Microsoft hopes to get other hardware vendors on board.

Pre-configured cloud servers are emerging from many vendors, and the Microsoft-Dell version is basically a rack of servers running Windows Server 2012 R2, along with Microsoft's normal management product, System Center 2012 R2 and an add-on for Azure, previously known as Windows Azure Services for Windows Server, now renamed as Windows Azure Pack.

The idea is to offer a version of Azure on-premises. This means that IT managers who really like Azure can offer a version of it to their in-house users, including a self-service portal for managing services like sites and virtual machines, and a screen for administrators to manage internal Azure clouds.

Alongside this, Microsoft launched a refined version of its Azure Marketplace portal.

Lackluster news?
For those looking for major platform news under the covers, Guthrie commented on last week’s announcement that Docker containerization will be added to Windows:  "We think container-based approaches like Docker will be great, both to increase server density and enable existing applications to run even more cost-effectively on fewer amounts of infrastructure."
But we also think that the container-based approach helps dramatically with the development of next-generation applications, and enabling them to be deployed even more efficiently as well."

Microsoft also announced it would certify Cloudera, a leading commercial implementation of the Hadoop big data platform for Azure, so it can be run direct from the Microsoft cloud, and it also said CoreOS, the containerized version of the Linux operating system is available now on Azure.


Many news outlets found all this merely incremental, and skipped the cloud service announcements for a return to Satya Nadella's recent comments on equal pay for women.