Microsoft, NetApp pen three-year, private cloud deal

Microsoft/NetApp deal thumbs its nose at Cisco/EMC/VMware efforts

Microsoft has expanded its relationship with NetApp into the world of so-called private clouds. The two announced a three-year deal in which they will jointly develop turnkey storage, virtualization and server wares and go head-to-head with the likes of Cisco who is working madly to win private cloud deals.

The term "private clouds" is today's buzzword for a preconfigured, on-premise system that features virtualization at every level. NetApp and Microsoft have long since optimized their wares to work well with one another's. Today's agreement will focus on platforms that link NetApp' storage with servers running Windows Server 2008 R2, Microsoft Hyper-V Server 2008 R2 and Microsoft System Center.

But wait, there's more. The two will optimize some of Microsoft's best-selling software for these private clouds: NetApp's storage and data management software will be tweaked to work better with Microsoft Exchange Server, Microsoft Office SharePoint Server and Microsoft SQL Server.

The two are also promising to deliver some sort of cloud computing and hosted services. The press release mentions " integrated data protection, 'always on' data access" so presumably that means, at the least, cloud-based storage and backup for otherwise private clouds. But if I use my imagination for a bit of speculation, that could also mean that the two are kicking the tires on releasing a full cloud infrastructure, with NetApp as the storage, Azure as the cloud operating system and Microsoft apps and a custom .Net code as the applications.

The idea that Microsoft will be going after private clouds is another push against Cisco. Cisco has been going hog-wild promoting itself as a private cloud vendor. Most see this as a head-to-head competition with HP who, like Cisco, sells routers, switches as well as servers.

Cisco had partnered with NetApp and VMware over the summer, had done a road show showing their reference architectures for building private clouds on gear optimized to work together.

But in October, Cisco thumbed its nose at NetApp and cozied up more heavily to VMware's puppet master, EMC. (EMC is the majority stakeholder in VMware, although about 10% of VMware shares are available for investors to own.) Cisco, EMC and VMware announced a major joint venture, named Acadia, which will be open for business in 2010 and will employ 130 people. Acadia will sell something named "Vblock" a private cloud package that features networking and computing from Cisco, storage, security and management from EMC, and virtualization from VMware using vSphere.

But the Microsoft/NetApp partnership, if it seriously materializes, will clearly compete with Cisco's efforts with EMC. Microsoft's "new partnership" with NetApp has some interesting timing. This week Acadia announced a progress report including its list of board members that consist of executives from Cisco and EMC. Looks like NetApp would like to steal some of that thunder, and if private clouds are going to be big using vSphere, Microsoft no doubts wants a piece of that to go to Hyper-V.

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