Microsoft's Box for Shipping Lots of Data Into the Cloud Now in GA

Microsoft has launched the Azure Data Box, an appliance for physically moving up to 100TB into its cloud, into general availability • Data Box Heavy, a 100 Petabyte version of the appliance, is also on the way, the company said • Both Amazon and Google already offer appliances for physically migrating data to their clouds

Christine Hall

September 26, 2018

4 Min Read
Microsoft Azure Data Box
An Azure Data Box at the Microsoft Ignite conference in Orlando, Florida [Source: Richard Hay]

It took a year, but Azure Data Box has finally arrived -- and more "boxes" are being added to the mix.

Last September, at its Ignite conference in Orlando, Microsoft announced that it was previewing an appliance for physically moving data to into the Azure cloud, appropriately called Azure Data Box. This week, again at Ignite, the company announced that the product is out of preview stage and is now generally available in the US and Europe. During preview, the devices were only available for existing customers and US-based software-vendor partners.

With the announcement of GA, Microsoft also announced three additions, currently in preview, that are being added to the line.

So what took so long for Microsoft to bring this box to market? The best guess would be that it took a while to work out the bugs, and probably a bit longer to fine tune the logistics.

Logistics would definitely be a major concern here. Microsoft calls the boxes "ruggedized devices," which are basically souped-up storage appliances that customers can use to physically transfer large amounts of data to the Azure cloud. Customers rent a device from Microsoft, fill it with up to 100TB of data, then ship it back to Microsoft, which transfers the data to the Azure cloud.


So why bother with ordering an appliance, filling it up with data, and then going to the trouble of shipping it to Microsoft so they can lift it to the cloud when you could just upload it yourself? Isn't that like taking a slow moving freight train instead of the freeway? Actually, relatively speaking it's more like ditching the freeway to take the bullet train. According to Microsoft, migrating terabytes or petabytes of data over the internet can take months.

Last year when Data Box's preview was announced, Microsoft said, "Customers are asking for another option: a secure, human-portable, and easy-to-get Microsoft appliance that enables the offline transfer of large data sets to the Azure cloud."

Customers might have been asking because other clouds were either already offering a similar service or had one on the way. Amazon Web Services (AWS) introduced its own data migration appliance, Snowball, in 2015, which is capable of transferring up to 80TB of data to and from AWS. Last November it introduced Snowball Edge, with a capacity of 100TB, and Snowmobile, a shipping container sized appliance with a 100PB capacity. And Google Cloud Platform (GCP) announced Transfer Appliance, its own mass data migration solution, just ahead of Microsoft's initial 2017 announcement. The GCP appliance comes in 100TB or 480TB configurations.

Azure Data Box weighs in at 45 pounds and supports 256-bit AES data encryption. For the time being, a previously announced smaller version, Data Box Disk, remains in preview. When available it will offer 8TB SSD, with a USB/SATA interface, and feature 128-bit encryption. It will be available in packs of up to five, for a total of 40TB.

With the announcement of the general availability of Data Box, Microsoft announced that it's expanding the line.

Data Box Heavy, currently available in preview, is basically a bigger version of Data Box, with a capacity of 1PB and multiple 40 Gbps connectors. In a blog, Azure Data Box director Dean Paron said that by using Heavy, "a data center’s worth of data can be moved into Azure in a few weeks’ time."


Also available in preview is Data Box Edge, which Microsoft is calling "an on-premises appliance with AI-enabled edge compute capabilities."

"Data Box Edge acts as a storage gateway, creating a a link between your site and Azure storage," Paron explained. "This makes moving data into and out of Azure storage as easy as working with a local network share. Data Box Edge provides a local cache and optimizes network traffic to and from the cloud."

He said that the Edge device can also provide a computing platform by using it with Azure's IoT Edge service, which is used to deploy Azure services, custom code, and applications to the edge.

"This means that you can analyze, filter, or transform your data right at the edge as part of your workflow," he said.

Azure Data Box Gateway, a standalone virtual appliance, for customers who want to deploy only the storage gateway functionality on their own systems, is also now in preview.

About the Author(s)

Christine Hall

Freelance author

Christine Hall has been a journalist since 1971. In 2001 she began writing a weekly consumer computer column and began covering IT full time in 2002, focusing on Linux and open source software. Since 2010 she's published and edited the website FOSS Force. Follow her on Twitter: @BrideOfLinux.

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