Microsoft is joining forces with Elon Musk’s SpaceX to challenge Amazon in the race to provide cloud-computing services from outer space.
The partnership will connect Microsoft’s Azure cloud computing network to the expanding Starlink satellite internet service offered by Elon Musk’s company. Microsoft’s involvement will help connect and deploy new services using multiple low-orbit spacecraft proposed by SpaceX and more traditional fleets of satellites circling the earth at higher altitudes.
The deal will connect Starlink’s network to Microsoft data centers, including its new “Azure Modular Datacenter” product. The new data center is a mobile unit, roughly the size of a semi-trailer.
According to Microsoft, Starlink’s global coverage is helping make Azure Modular Datacenters possible.
“Microsoft designed the [Azure Modular Datacenters] to support high-intensity, secure cloud computing in challenging environments, such as situations where critical prerequisites like power and building infrastructure are unreliable. It is having Azure on your terms where you need it in a self-contained unit,” announced Microsoft.
Starlink is SpaceX’s attempt to build an interconnected internet network with thousands of satellites designed to deliver high-speed internet to people anywhere on the planet.
“The collaboration that we’re announcing today will allow us to work together to deliver new offerings for both the public and the private sector to deliver connectivity through Starlink for use on Azure. Where it makes sense, we will work with [Microsoft]: co-selling to our mutual customers, co-selling to new enterprise and future customers,” said SpaceX President and COO Gwynne Shotwell in a video.
Currently, SpaceX has launched over 800 of its Starlink satellites. However, that number is just a fraction of the total needed for global coverage, but it is enough to provide internet services in some regions.
The company has an ongoing private beta test of the service. Additionally, it is working with organizations in rural regions of Washington state to deliver satellite internet.
According to The Wall Street Journal, Microsoft’s goal is to create integrated, secure networks, linking various cloud, space, and ground capabilities. The system would accumulate and analyze huge volumes of data, supporting missions such as space-debris surveillance and missile warnings and helping to control the orbits of commercial satellites.
The announcement comes three months after Amazon’s cloud unit, Web Services, announced its space-focused effort.
Amazon is the current market leader for the cloud market, while Microsoft holds the number two spot.
Currently, Amazon offers a service to connect its Amazon Web Services cloud to satellites and is working on a competitor to Starlink called Kuiper. Additionally, Jeff Bezos has made a personal investment in his rocket builder Blue Origin.
According to The Wall Street Journal, some analysts have projected that the overall revenue from these space-related cloud services could total roughly $15 billion by the end of the decade. That prediction is several times higher than current levels.
Microsoft also highlighted the benefits that this new partnership would bring to its many other business relationships. The company that its’ Azure system is already used by the U.S Defense and Innovation Unit, Lockheed Martin, Airbus, Seequent, and Land O’Lakes, all of whom will benefit from a partnership with SpaceX.