As you are probably aware, Microsoft is becoming a "devices & services" company. Don't assume that devices refer just to phones, tablets and consumer services, because they can also be data center infrastructure products. The same way that client/server architectures reshaped enterprise computing in the 90s, device and service designs will change the future of enterprise IT. The broad interest in Software Defined Networking (SDN) shows how eager customers and vendors are to integrate on-premise devices (both real and virtual) with centralized management services. Why? To respond faster to changes and to increase the utilization of the physical infrastructure.   

The hybrid cloud storage solution from Microsoft is an excellent example of how on-premises devices and cloud storage services can be integrated to achieve a more flexible IT infrastructure. Last year Microsoft acquired StorSimple and with it, enterprise storage devices that help customers manage unstructured data growth - something that is an unsolved problem for most IT organizations. The StorSimple device automates time consuming storage processes and transparently uploads data to Windows Azure Storage services, allowing the IT team to focus on other problems.

The device part of this solution is an on-premises iSCSI storage array with a cloud-connected back end that accesses objects in Windows Azure Storage services. Changed data is encrypted and backed up automatically to an off-site Windows Azure data center, where 3 copies are made for redundant protection. If a disaster strikes the customer's data center, StorSimple devices have the intelligence to perform deterministic recoveries that eliminate unnecessary data downloads that waste time. Unlike dedupe appliances that have data retention limitations based on their internal capacity, the storage services of Windows Azure can be used to retain as much backup data as desired. The StorSimple device manages storage capacity by relocating stale data to Windows Azure Storage. In most cases, the data selected for relocation is already in the cloud because it had been previously backed up there, which means capacity relief is a matter of redirecting data pointers in the StorSimple device. Compared to adding storage capacity to traditional enterprise storage arrays, the device and service architecture is a significant improvement.   

There will undoubtedly be other hybrid management architectures that integrate enterprise-class devices with cloud-based services. For example, the Windows Azure Hyper-V Recovery Manager is an example of how Microsoft is integrating (virtual) devices with Azure services to create a DR solution for Windows Server 2012 customers. 

Next week's VMworld conference in San Francisco will be full of new announcements of their software defined data center (SDDC) initiative. If you find yourself wondering what the all this talk is about "data planes" and "control planes" you might try translating that inflated jargon into something a little more concrete - such as devices and services.