Microsoft Azure Orbital satellite service to compete with Amazon AWS

An AWS Ground Station satellite antenna at one of the company’s data center in Boardman, Oregon.


Microsoft will offer a new service called Azure Orbital that connects satellites directly to its cloud computing network, the company announced at its Ignite conference Tuesday.

The service will begin in a “private preview” to a select group of Microsoft customers. Earlier this month CNBC reported on Microsoft’s plans to challenge the Ground Station service that’s available from Amazon Web Services. Amazon and Microsoft are the two largest providers of cloud infrastructure, with data centers in far-flung places that can host websites and run applications using a variety of computing and storage services.

“With access to low-latency global fiber networks and the global scale of Microsoft’s cloud services, customers can innovate quickly with large satellite datasets,” Yves Pitsch, a principal product manager at Microsoft, wrote in a blog post. “The cloud is central to both modern communications scenarios for remote operations and the gathering, processing, and distributing the tremendous amounts of data from space.”

Azure Orbital has signed up satellite companies Amergint, Kratos, Kongsberg Satellite Services, and Viasat as partners, Pitsch wrote.

In documents filed with the Federal Communications Commission this past month, Microsoft outlined its intent to build a network of ground stations and show satellite operators the potential benefits of connecting to its Azure cloud. The FCC authorized Microsoft to perform proof-of-concept demonstrations of the service, with the company planning to connect a Spanish imaging satellite to two ground stations — both located in Microsoft’s home state of Washington — to show that it can directly download satellite “data to the Azure Cloud for immediate processing,” the documents said. Microsoft proposed to construct one of the two ground stations itself at its data center in Quincy, Wash.

Amazon leads the growing cloud-computing market, with 45% in 2019, while Microsoft had about 18%, according to technology industry research company Gartner. Microsoft’s Azure Orbital announcement arrives almost two years after AWS launched Ground Station.

Cloud infrastructure delivers most of Amazon’s operating income. In Microsoft’s case, Azure is growing faster than other notable products prominent areas, such as Windows.

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