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Azure Stack: Microsoft’s ‘Azure in a box’ is coming

By Scott Gosling – National Practice Manager – Cloud, Data#3

[Reading time: 3:30 mins]

Azure Stack

With more news and announcements about Azure Stack coming from Microsoft, I thought it was time to explain why the interest and excitement is building.

Azure Stack first commanded our attention in May 2015 when Microsoft offered the world an insight into Windows Server 2016. This was then followed up with a technical preview in early 2016 that gave us a much clearer indication of what we could expect.

As Cloud continues to mature, IT decision makers are increasingly embracing a Hybrid Cloud approach given that not all workloads or applications are suitable to be shifted for various reasons. However, embracing Hybrid is not without its challenges.

Cloud as a model – not a place

In attempting to explain where Azure Stack will sit in the enterprise landscape, it’s important that you think of Cloud as a model – not a place.

Microsoft’s plan over the past six years or so has been to deliver Azure, as it exists on a massive scale, as a premier Public Cloud offering. However, in these times of increased compliance, legislative reform dictating data storage parameters and vigilant CFOs, it’s not feasible to suggest that the output of an entire network could reside in Public Cloud.

While Private Cloud has always been an alternative option, the amount of engineering and processes required to re-engineer existing on-premises infrastructure into a Private Cloud model, meant that many customers never even considered embarking on the journey.

Now, with Azure Stack, you will be able to run your very own version of Azure on your own infrastructure in your own data centre bringing all the services, flexibility and agility of a Public Cloud service to your own Private Cloud. It changes the game for the Hybrid Cloud model.

Under the hood

Using a car analogy for a moment, Azure Stack drives just like Azure using the same APIs with the same dashboard, Azure Resource Manager (ARM) at the wheel. It also provides access to the same tools and templates to manage your Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS) resources such as compute, network and storage plus some of the Platform as a Service (PaaS) offerings like web and mobile apps.

Under the hood, Azure Stack includes Microsoft’s Hyper-V, allowing you to deploy your development and testing workloads to Azure in the Public Cloud to scale up during periods of peak demand and avid User Acceptance Testing. While in times of little traffic, you are able to simply switch off your servers, automate out of hours and weekend shutdowns to further reduce costs. When code is ready to be deployed to production, you can then use the same templates to deploy into your production systems that reside in your own data centre hosted on Azure Stack.

The latest news is, of course, that Microsoft has just announced that Azure Stack, available mid-2017, will only be delivered as an integrated, turnkey solution, pre-installed and pre-deployed on three OEM hardware platforms including Dell-EMC, HPE and Lenovo. While the news has been met with mixed reactions, the reasoning behind the decision appears to be extremely sound.

Meeting the global expectations of a Public Cloud

Microsoft currently operates the largest integrated system in the world, Azure. In terms of scale, Microsoft currently uses 880 servers on a single cluster to deliver its Public Cloud. Microsoft has, in its own environment, strictly controlled the hardware Azure operates on, conducted validation testing end-to-end and applied patches to ensure the software is optimised to meet the global expectations of a Public Cloud.

Through this experience it has recognised that a turnkey solution is the best way to ensure operational stability and performance in an on-premises environment running Azure Stack.

While the latest advice from Microsoft rules out the immediate possibility of hardware-agnostic deployment for the Hybrid Cloud product when it is released next year, the good news is that it will run on as few as four servers. The other obvious advantages of this strategy being that Dell-EMC, HPE and Lenovo (with more expected to follow suit in future) have co-engineered the architecture meaning future support for the solution will be robust and cohesive.

With the release of Azure Stack due in 2017, true hybrid IT bringing with it the ability to deploy either in the Cloud or on-premises will soon be a reality.

Tags: Cloud, Hybrid Cloud, Microsoft, Microsoft Azure Stack, Private Cloud, Public Cloud

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