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The fast path to modern computing with Azure Stack – our success story

Lenovo Azure Stack Integrated System Deployment Experience

Towards the end of 2018, Data#3 worked together with Lenovo (one of our key data centre hardware solution partners) to set up an Azure Stack integrated system to showcase the benefits of an on-Premises modern hyper-converged Infrastructure (HCI) extension of Azure can bring to customers. I was fortunate to be able to take a break from day-to-day operations to drive the implementation of the first Lenovo Azure Stack in the country – and below is my account of the fun journey, which will hopefully, help you with yours!

We already have Azure Stack ASDK (Developer Kits) deployed in our national offices with a Dell Stack hosted in our Brisbane office, HPE Stack in our Adelaide office and a Cisco Stack in our Perth office. (Reach out to your account manager if you would like to learn more or would like a hands-on demo) However, this was a full four node stack to be deployed in our Sydney office and I was very excited to get this up and running.

System Sizing Planning

As with all other data centre solution projects, you should start with capacity planning. Microsoft developed this tool to help customers with this:

https://gallery.technet.microsoft.com/Azure-Stack-Capacity-24ccd822

We used this as a starting place to plan our capacity requirements and coupled with our expertise in capacity planning and infrastructure deployment we settled on a four-node stack. More information available here: https://lenovopress.com/lp0603-lenovo-thinkagile-sx-for-microsoft-azure-stack-sxm4200-sxm6200

Data Centre Preparation

Customers can choose to order one Azure Stack scale unit in a full rack with 12 nodes. Our Lenovo Azure Stack came in with a 25RU small rack fully populated and ready to go. This simplified the onsite data centre work that the onsite team had to perform. The only things for us to consider were:

  • Floor space for the rack,
  • Cabling for the uplinks fibre, and
  • Power connections.

Physical Installation

The physical installation of Azure Stack was incredibly smooth as the Lenovo factory completed all the connections/cabling inside the rack before the shipment. All components in Azure Stack arrived at the Data#3 Sydney office within a 25RU rack in a big box. Our deployment requirements were rather simple, receive shipment, unpack and relocate to our data centre.

We did encounter a minor issue regarding the power plugs for the three phase PDUs inside the Azure Stack, as the Lenovo Azure Stack shipped with plugs for international standard IEC309 3P+N+G. After a quick chat with a Lenovo technical specialist, we had a local electrician on site to modify the power outlets in our server room.

A Minor setback later and we were lit up and good to go. I have been involved with many data centre deployment projects and I really enjoy the tactile aspect of racking and cabling. This was definitely one of the smoothest, lightest-touch deployments I have ever encountered.

Integration Workshops and Pre-deployment Preparation with Lenovo

Since this was the first Azure Stack deployment for Lenovo in Australia, we conducted several deployment workshops with the Lenovo deployment team over video conference to ensure that the deployment was as smooth as possible. The project deployment team were very experienced on Azure Stack in the Asia Pacific region and provided expert guidance and assistance throughout the deployment.

The main purpose of these workshops was to complete the Azure Stack deployment worksheet, which is designed to help customers plan the detailed configurations for data centre integrations in Networking, DNS, and Azure Stack registration.

Each Azure Stack hardware manufacturer maintains their own version of the Azure Stack deployment worksheet. A sample worksheet can be found at this TechNet link: https://gallery.technet.microsoft.com/Sample-Azure-Stack-b898beb1

The most challenging part of the workshops was to define the network integration low-level design. Our network team, and Lenovo technical specialists, worked closely together to consider all options within our demo network environment. In the end, we successfully converted the conceptual Azure Stack network integration design into our own version of network design showing below. All networking components within the Stack are pre-cabled and configured by the Azure fabric that sits on top of the node compute. Our core decision was for the uplink connectivity from the TOR (Top of Rack Switches) to our internal network.

Deployment Phase

After the deployment worksheet was completed, the stage of onsite implementation commenced. This stage is also designed to be a painless procedure for customers. The Lenovo team took all the inputs from the pre-deployment workshops and then built all the required PowerShell scripts from the completed deployment worksheet.

When we traditionally talk about deployment we refer to laying down the core OS on each node, performing firmware updates to out of band management controllers and system devices, OS patching and configuration of protection methodologies such as AV\Backup\Monitoring etc., configuration of shared or HCI storage, cluster provisioning and configuration and network configuration. Under normal circumstances I would have been busy for at least 2 days undertaking traditional deployment tasks.

Not today! Stack is a complete turnkey solution with the hardware partner performing all deployment activities using PowerShell, every driver, every firmware revision every configuration option is standardised by Microsoft and automated through scripting. For a little more information on the core components that comprise the Azure Stack solution or if you would like to deploy your own Stack development kit, then check out my colleague’s blog.

Taking the inputs from the pre-deployment worksheet, the Lenovo engineer tuned the template deployment scripts and hit the go button. We went for Coffee!

Post-Deployment Tasks

Once the Azure Stack software was successfully deployed on the ThinkAgile SX hardware, there were some important tasks that needed to be completed before Azure Stack admins and users could start to access it:

1. Azure Stack registration with Azure: We registered our Azure Stack in the Pay-AS-You-Go billing method. This required an Enterprise Agreement or CSP Azure subscription.

2. Identity integration with customer environment: This was actually decided at the planning phase, and we utilised Azure Active Directory to provide the identity source for our stack.

3. DNS Integration to allow Azure Stack URLs can be resolved externally: In our case, the DNS delegation was set up to point at the name servers inside the Azure Stack.

4. Firewall configurations: Azure Stack itself does include a physical firewall as that is up to the customer to deploy based on business and technical requirements.

After 2 elapsed days of deployment time and no more than 4 hours of combined effort, our Stack was live. We logged into the Azure Stack portal and started the real work.

Sign-Off

The final stage of this Lenovo Azure Stack deployment was project sign-off and final deployment validation.

Thanks to our network team and Lenovo XClarity remote system management software, the implementation engineer was able to perform all the validation steps remotely logging into the DVM and generating the handover bundle for me to sign-off.

Next Steps

Now the PoC Azure Stack is fully functioning, the Data#3 and Lenovo teams are currently busy working together to get the demo showcase scenarios ready for customer demonstrations. This includes building the subscriptions\offers and resource manager providers for self-service provisioning of infrastructure. This part of the deployment is normally self-managed by the customer or through an integration partner such as ourselves and honestly after deploying hundreds of HCI systems this is the super fun part.

https://azure.microsoft.com/en-us/overview/azure-stack/keyfeatures/

 Conclusions

Azure Stack is a system designed to address the following customer paint points:

  • Need to deploy new cloud-based services faster and with ease
  • Requirement for on-premises security and control including greater than “Protected” classification of data
  • Low latency requirements for modern cloud-based solutions and PaaS offerings
  • Complexity of integration, administration and optimisation of hybrid cloud environment
  • Support of hybrid cloud infrastructure

From our own experiences of Lenovo Azure Stack deployment, we observed some obvious benefits over the traditional HCI system deployment.

1. Simplified, consistent hybrid cloud

  • Rack-scale, pre-integrated turnkey solution ready to deploy in hours
  • On-premises Azure cloud services
  • Enriched lifecycle management

2. Increased IT agility

  • Ships up to two times faster than alternative solutions
  • No disruption to tenant availability or experience
  • Professional installation and deployment

3. Transformative support

  • Hardware vendor (Lenovo in our case) has co-innovated with Microsoft closely
  • Single point of contact for infrastructure and software reduces support time

Azure Stack is an all-in-one-box Infrastructure as a Service solution that differentiates itself from a traditional data centre cloud solution. The planning and implementation periods have been highly pre-defined and simplified to support standardised rapid deployment. If we did not choose (somewhat forced to) to deploy the Lenovo Stack during the holiday season, we could have completed the process within days.

These days, there are more hardware partners, Lenovo being one of them, for customers to adopt the Azure Stack solution more than 12 months ago. Data#3 is partnered with the majority of them to offer customers the most suitable options.

Contact Data#3 to see a demonstration today. We can even set up a PoC environment in parallel with your Azure (Azure AD) environment to give you a hands-on Azure Stack experience.

Pictured below: The A team from Data#3 and Lenovo who put up the Azure Stack.

 

Tags: Microsoft, Microsoft Azure, Microsoft Azure Stack, Lenovo

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