Microsoft launched its Azure Space initiative today, October 20. Azure Space is a suite of products in addition to the recently announced partnerships. They are designed to position Azure as a key player in the space and satellite connectivity / IT portion of the cloud market.
Azure Space isn’t just for companies in the space industry. It aims to attract clients of public and private companies in the agriculture, energy, telecommunications and government markets. It is also designed for any customer with bandwidth and remote access needs.
Azure responds to AWS movement
Microsoft’s main cloud rival, AWS, has announced its own strategy for the space industry. Including its space unit called Aerospace and Satellite Solutions, in June 2020. It has also created its own satellite connection service, AWS Ground Station, and a satellite company called Project Kuiper. It competes with SpaceX’s Starlink and other satellite network providers.
Those in Redmond have done the same as in other areas where AWS has its own products and services. Microsoft is playing on the fact that it is not trying to be a satellite supplier per se. Instead, it will continue to partner with satellite companies as part of its Azure Space effort.
To get this message across at home, Microsoft is introducing Elon Musk’s Space X as one of its Azure Space partners. Microsoft is working with SpaceX to provide satellite internet connectivity to Azure. The companies plan to offer the ability to connect SpaceX’s Starlink satellite broadband to Microsoft’s new Azure modular data center. SpaceX just announced this week that it has launched 60 more Starlink satellites for deployment into Earth orbit as part of its preparation for a public beta of its broadband satellite service.
Space X, the first of many customers
Azure’s Modular Data Center (MDC), also announced today, is Azure in a Shipping Container (aka, a “transportable field” solution). The MDC, which includes its own HVAC system, server racks, networking and security capabilities. It is designed to provide customers with a robust option for setting up an Azure datacenter in remote locations. MDC can work online or offline. For now, MDC is running Azure Stack Hub, but a Microsoft spokesperson said that may not be the case in the future. Since MDC is an independent data center. Perhaps this is a nod to Azure Stack Fiji, Microsoft’s competitor to AWS Outposts.
Microsoft and SpaceX also plan to offer connections between Starlink and Microsoft’s global network in the future. This includes Azure Edge Computing devices. The idea is to integrate SpaceX ground stations with Azure network capabilities. Enabling customers to access all kinds of Microsoft services, from machine learning and visualization to productivity services.
The other partners Microsoft is promoting by participating in its Azure Space initiative are as follows. Satellite operator SES, KSAT, Viasat, Kratos, Amergint, KubOS and US Electrodynamics Microsoft announced a partnership with SES for Azure Orbital last month at its Ignite conference. They plan to work more together to expand satellite connectivity with the MDC. In addition to expanding to other regions and cloud data center devices.
Azure Orbital is a new service that will allow satellite operators to access physical communications capabilities via satellite. Through private insight, Orbital will enable satellite operators to process and analyze data in Azure and plan access to Azure Orbital ground station antennas. Last year at Ignite, Microsoft announced an associated service called ExpressRoute for Satellite. This service, intended for business customers and not satellite operators, allowed users to communicate from a remote site to Azure locations through private and dedicated connections. Both services are now part of the Azure Space portfolio.
Microsoft also today announced a new related service called Azure Orbital Emulator. Azure Orbital Emulator is an emulation environment that performs massive simulations of satellite constellations with software and hardware. It is aimed at satellite developers who need to evaluate and train AI algorithms involving satellite networks before launching satellites. Azure Orbital Emulator is already in use by customers of Microsoft’s Azure Government cloud, officials said.