In September, Microsoft introduced Azure Orbital, an initiative that would allow satellites to operate on its flagship cloud platform Azure.
Today, as part of its ongoing space adventure, the tech titan has launched Azure Space, a grand plan that will bring together engineers, scientists, and corporations in the space industry to build a cloud-based space ecosystem, with Elon Musk’s SpaceX becoming the initiative’s first partner.
“By building on new and existing partnerships within the space community, leaning into our culture of innovation and investing in the power of our people we will extend the utility of our Azure edge capabilities with worldwide satellite connectivity, unblock cloud in more scenarios and empower our partners and customers to achieve more,” said Tom Keane, Corporate Vice President of Microsoft’s Azure Global.
Microsoft and SpaceX will collaborate to bring high-speed, low-latency satellite broadband to Azure and its new Modular Data Center. SpaceX will also deploy its satellite internet constellation network, Starlink in the new collaboration.
Resilient satellite communications, coupled with Azure’s ability to provide high-performance computing, machine learning, and data analytics is said to open many new opportunities for both public- and private-sector organisations.
“Starlink brings point-to-point communications from anywhere on Earth, so leveraging that along with Azure is really an incredible robust capability for our customers.” said Gwynne Shotwell, the President and COO at SpaceX.
Azure Space will also build on Microsoft’s existing Azure Orbital partnership with Luxembourgian satellite telecommunications company SES. The initiative will continue to support SES in the integration of their O3B Medium Earth Orbit with Azure.
Data Center in a Container
After success with its underwater data center project, Microsoft announced its Azure Modular Datacenter (MDC), a new initiative that would see the deployment of mobile data centers to remote places.
Besides providing network support for Azure Space, data centers mobilised under the MDC will also be of service in scenarios such as providing humanitarian assistance, supporting military missions, and mineral exploration.
“Around the world, there are significant cloud computing and storage needs in areas with adverse conditions, where low communication, disrupted network availability and limited access to specialised infrastructure would have previously prevented taking advantage of cloud computing,” wrote Azure Global Industry Sovereign Solutions’ General Manager, Bill Karagounis.
“The MDC solves this by bringing Azure to these environments, providing datacenter scale compute resources closest to where they’re needed,” added Mr. Karagounis.
Microsoft designed the MDC to support high-intensity, secure cloud computing in challenging environments, such as situations where critical prerequisites like power and building infrastructure are unreliable or where low communication, disrupted network availability and limited access to specialised infrastructure would have previously prevented taking advantage of cloud computing.
For Microsoft, MDC is unique because customers can run the unit with full network connectivity, occasionally connected or fully disconnected, allowing customers to access the power of the Azure cloud on their terms.
This connectivity is achieved through partnerships with satellite operators and a network high availability module, which continuously evaluates network performance. In the event of a network disruption, the network high availability module moves traffic from the impacted network to a backup satellite connection. This resiliency ensures continued delivery of essential hyperscale services through Azure. The MDC can also use satellite communications as the primary connection where no other network is available.
Once deployed, the mobile data centers will perform a range of functions, including onsite compute and storage capabilities augmentation, managing and operating high-performance applications, IoT, real-time analytics, and standing up cloud applications to support critical infrastructure recovery.
With a ruggedised, radio frequency shielded unit, these data centers are able to operate under harsh weather conditions.
MDC data center units are now in early use with Microsoft’s defense and private sector partners.