Microsoft's new knowledge middle in a field will use SpaceX Starlink broadband
"With a satellite system, you can get there without fiber," Shotwell continued. "They are basically talking to the satellites that we have in orbit. The satellites will talk to each other and take that data to the other point on earth where it is needed."
Starlink offers "latency times well below 40-50 msec roundtrip to the Internet," SpaceX told the Federal Communications Commission in a message earlier this month. Speed tests conducted by Starlink beta users recently found latencies between 20 ms and 94 ms.
Starlink is not yet ready to connect two points on Earth. The company has launched over 700 satellites, but an ongoing customer beta for US customers is only available in Washington state. Even the "pretty broad public beta" teased by SpaceX CEO Elon Musk a few weeks ago will only be for the northern US and likely southern Canada. However, SpaceX regularly launches 60 new satellites and has US permits to host nearly 12,000 satellites.
Microsoft has also designed and built an underwater data center, although that doesn't appear to be part of the Microsoft-Starlink collaboration.
Microsoft also uses SES Middle-earth satellites
While SpaceX satellites use near-earth orbits, Microsoft also works with SES, a provider of mid-earth orbit satellites. This is how Microsoft described the cooperation with SES:
SES worked with the Microsoft Azure team to demonstrate a simulated fiber failure on an MDC and the network was able to automatically switch from fiber to satellite connectivity from SES in Azure. The two companies are developing solutions in which SES provides connectivity or resilience for the terrestrial connectivity of autonomous MDCs at a speed of several hundred megabits per second (Mbit / s) and with O3b MPOWER, the next generation communication system from SES, to several gigabits per Second is scalable.
As part of the Azure Orbital agreement, SES will be both a Microsoft partner in setting up the gateway infrastructure and a customer, since it localizes its MEO O3b mPOWER teleports together with Azure data centers. Together, the companies will support connectivity between cloud data center regions and cloud edge devices, enabling direct "one-hop" connectivity to Azure.
Microsoft said its MDC could automatically switch from non-satellite to satellite connections:
This connectivity is achieved through a network high availability module that continuously evaluates network performance. In the event of a network failure, the network high availability module moves the data traffic from the affected network to a backup satellite connection. This resilience ensures that important hyperscale services are continuously provided via Azure. Alternatively, MDC can use satellite communications as the primary connection when no other network is available.
The MDC can also run in a "completely disconnected" mode in scenarios that do not require an Internet connection, according to Microsoft.
More Microsoft / SpaceX collaboration
Microsoft said MDC units "will be used early in defense and private companies," but did not say when they will become more widespread. The company said companies should "contact their Microsoft representative" if they are interested in the technology.
Microsoft is not only working with SpaceX on the MDC. "The two companies also plan to further connect Starlink to Microsoft's global network – including Azure Edge devices – and integrate SpaceX's ground stations with Azure networking capabilities," said Microsoft.
SpaceX recently signed a contract with the US Space Development Agency to build new satellites – separate from Starlink – to "provide missile tracking data for hypersonic gliders and the next generation of advanced missile threats." Microsoft announced today that it is joining the project as a SpaceX subcontractor and that the two companies are planning further collaborations.
"As the two companies expect to serve government customers, particularly in the defense and intelligence sectors, they see growing opportunities for satellite connectivity and capability across the private sector in areas such as telecommunications, energy and agriculture," said Microsoft's announcement.
Listing image from Microsoft