Azure in Spaaaaaaaaace: Microsoft signs up with SpaceX’s satellite net constellation Starlink

Although it may be struggling to keep bits of the Azure cloud vertical in recent weeks, Microsoft continues to eye off-planet applications and connectivity for its data centres.

Azure Space is the latest wheeze, and joins a lengthening list of services, including Azure Orbital and the satellite-enabled ExpressRoute in the company’s roster of space-based endeavours.

While Microsoft’s existing network consists of over 160,000 miles of subsea, terrestrial, and metro optical fiber, there is no such thing as too much connectivity (as anyone who has been at the sharp end of recent Microsoft 365 outages can attest) and to that end a deal has been struck with SpaceX.

Elon Musk’s astronomer-bothering Starlink will be used to shunt data through the heavens for Microsoft’s new Azure Modular Datacenters (MDC), container-sized units. These can be dropped anywhere, from locations where remoteness or local infrastructure makes connectivity iffy, and nearer to customers seeking a low latency connection to their own data centres and a migration path to the public cloud.

The MDC is a neat bit of technology, being self-contained and able to provide Azure services with full, occasional or disconnected networking. The ruggedised containers (shielded from RF and protected from the climate) can hop onto a satellite connection if all else fails, and Microsoft claims some are already in “early use” with defence and private sector organisations.

Starlink aside, Microsoft will continue using SES’s O3b constellation to keep its cloud datacenter regions and cloud edge devices talking.

Sadly, there remain no plans for a Natick-style Azure module to be attached to the International Space Station (ISS) or fired at Mars, although the undersea testbed has been handy in seeing how Azure datacenters behave when left unattended in some extreme environments.

As well as connectivity, Microsoft was also keen to trumpet the use of Azure as a way of simulating the massive satellite constellations either under construction or in development. While it may occasionally struggle to deliver your email, “Azure can emulate an entire satellite network including complex, real-time scene generation using pre-collected satellite imagery for direct processing by virtualized and actual satellite hardware,” according to Microsoft.

Customers using Azure Government are apparently already playing with the thing. ®

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