Hi all – Joel Sider here from the Microsoft Server & Tools marketing team.

If you’re here in D.C. for the Partner Conference (and even if you aren’t), you’ve likely heard the news from Bob Muglia’s keynote: Microsoft is extending the Windows Azure cloud platform by offering the Windows Azure platform appliance for large customers or partners to run in their own datacenters.

You can read the press release, Robert Wahbe’s blog here or, better yet, Forrester’s blog about it, but bottom line: This is the same Windows Azure and SQL Azure that Microsoft hosts now, running on Microsoft specified hardware with customer/partner control of location, data management and compliance. As early adopters, Dell, Fujitsu, HP and eBay are all going to deploy it in their datacenters.

So, the appliance news is proof of Microsoft’s increasingly big bet on Azure as our standardized cloud service, and a view into the future of how customers and partners can use it in their own environments. But we also made some announcements around our customizable Windows Server platform, which many partners are using today to build private and public clouds.

Today we shipped the release candidate of the System Center Virtual Machine Manager Self Service Portal, a partner-extensible set of tools to build cloud services on the Windows Server/System Center/Hyper-V platform. We also released the beta of Windows Server 2008 R2 SP1 for virtualized infrastructure and a foundation for cloud computing.

We also kicked off two key Microsoft Partner Network programs to reward and guide partners (with virtualization, management or security competencies) as they help customers progress toward cloud computing with the server platform. These are two more great reasons to build out your Microsoft Infrastructure Practice.

The Management and Virtualization Solution Incentive program gives MPN members 20% fees for selling System Center and Hyper-V. The Private Cloud Deployment Kit gives partners prescriptive guidance for selling and implementing private clouds based on Hyper-V, Windows Server, System Center and the Self-Service Portal.  With it you get technical intellectual property, delivery guidance and best practices. The Microsoft Partner Network web site and Microsoft partner account managers can provide more information.

I’ll close with a quote from Robert’s blog:

For those who want a standardized service platform … we’ll run the cloud for them, whether in our data center or theirs. For those who adopt our customizable server platform, we will provide the capabilities in products such as Windows Server and System Center so that they can build their own. Across all of our offerings, we are committed to providing common tools for application development, IT management and identity that lets customers and partners carry their existing investment forward to the cloud.

Let us know what you think…especially if you’re at WPC and have more insights to share about the cloud services/server platform news.