One of the questions that crops up on a regular basis when discussing the Windows Azure platform is around the idea of folk either running Windows Azure in their own hosting center, or having the machines running Windows Azure physically reside in a certain location – typically in their own country (as opposed to Dublin, which is the default for most folks developing in Europe).

So, we are pleased to announce the…. “Windows Azure Platform Appliance” …. for more details check out the official Windows Azure team blog and Steve Marx & Ryan Dunn’s Channel 9 Video.

Some FAQs from the blog that I think are of most interest:

What is the Windows Azure Platform Appliance?

The Windows Azure Platform Appliance consists of Windows Azure, SQL Azure and a Microsoft-specified configuration of network, storage and server hardware. Service providers, governments and large enterprises who would, for example, invest in a 1000 servers at a time, will be able to deploy the Windows Azure platform on their own hardware in their datacenter.  Microsoft Windows Azure Platform Appliance is optimized for scale out applications - such as eBay- and datacenter efficiency across hundreds to thousands to tens-of-thousands servers.

What are the benefits of the appliance?

The main benefit of the appliance is that it provides the benefits of the Windows Azure platform with greater physical control, geographic proximity, regulatory compliance and data sovereignty. 

Does the appliance include hardware, what kind?

The appliance will run only on network, storage and server hardware that meets the Windows Azure platform reference specifications. We've invested significant engineering resources to ensure that the hardware required by the appliance is optimized to enable service availability, automated management and power, cooling and operational efficiency across tens of thousands of servers. Based on industry-standard x64 hardware, customers will be able to purchase the appliance from a choice of partners.

Why call it an appliance?

We call it an appliance because it is a turn-key cloud solution on highly standardized, preconfigured hardware. Think of it as hundreds of servers in pre-configured racks of networking, storage, and server hardware that are based on Microsoft-specified reference architecture.

The Microsoft Windows Azure platform appliance is different from typical server appliances in that it involves hundreds of servers rather than just one node or a few nodes and It is designed to be extensible – customers can simply add more servers -- depending upon the customer’s needs to scale out their platform.