May 13, 2024

The use cases driving demand for Microsoft Azure Stack HCI in a hybrid world

John Thiele
Solution Lead – Infrastructure at Data#3

Recent years have seen a steady adoption of cloud services by organisations. And for some organisations everything is now in the cloud. But for the majority of organisations the reality is different: 72% of organisations remain hybrid. The modern enterprise doesn’t necessarily mean everything is ‘all cloud’. In fact, for most it’s not an either-or situation, rather, the enterprise is settling into a more flexible middle ground – AKA a hybrid infrastructure.

Hybrid environments need a hybrid management solution

Hybrid environments allow for the adoption of the most appropriate and best-of-breed technology, regardless of the vendor or where that technology lives. Performance is also maximised as workloads can run closer to users or infrastructure. But it also means that the IT team must manage a wide variety of tools and consoles – often with one team for public cloud, a different team for on-premises infrastructure, and maybe another to manage developer environments. Complexity, and the cost of management and security, are all unwelcome side effects.

This is where Microsoft Azure Stack Hyper-Converged Infrastructure (ASHCI) comes into play. It allows organisations to leverage the strengths of both on-premises and cloud computing environments. It pools all your compute, storage, and network resources in one place, allowing you to host workloads close to users and other systems. However, it also allows you to utilise Azure management services to manage both your Azure and on-premises resources. This means fewer tools for teams to learn and use, eliminating those side effects with reduced complexity and operational costs – such as no longer maintaining skills in different toolsets for each environment.

The factors accelerating awareness of Azure Stack HCI

It’s little surprise that multi-cloud strategies have been making significant in-roads in the enterprise. However, some notable shifts occurred over the last 12 to 18 months that have accelerated this trend.

Over the last year we have seen changes in the datacentre drive customers to re-evaluate their virtualisation and compute platforms. When combined with the steady adoption of cloud by customers and increased complexity in environments it is no surprise that many are reviewing their hosting strategies, and turning to those in the know to help!

In recent years, Microsoft has been quietly building out its own hybrid-focused portfolio and capabilities. With Azure Stack HCI, a compelling hybrid cloud solution that integrates seamlessly with Microsoft Azure services and Azure Arc, are turning heads and a renewed attention.

This increasing awareness of applications and real-life use cases has many customers reaching out to understand how these Azure solutions can benefit their hybrid environments. So, let’s take a deeper look at Azure’s offering and the use cases they support.

Azure Stack HCI – a modern subscription for hybrid cloud with an Arc-enabled infrastructure

Azure Stack HCI is a hybrid cloud computing solution from Microsoft that combines the flexibility and scalability of Azure cloud services with the familiarity and control of on-premises infrastructure. Essentially, it’s a hyper-converged infrastructure (HCI) solution that runs on-premises and is tightly integrated with Azure services.

For many, adopting a hybrid cloud architecture makes sense. Instead of sending all data to the cloud, deploying a hyper-converged infrastructure at the edge can be a more efficient solution that reduces latency and ensures faster access to selected data for users. It offers the benefits of a hybrid cloud architecture while providing:

Let’s now break down some of the more technical use cases.

Data centre modernisation

Azure Stack HCI modernises and secures by virtualising and consolidating aging physical servers onto a more secure platform. This secures older Virtual Machines (VMs) with no-cost Extended Support Updates for Windows Server 2012 and Windows Server 2012 R2. At the same time boosting security for the host with Secure Boot, UEFI, Trusted Platform Module 2.0, BitLocker encryption, and built-in mitigations for hardware and firmware-based attacks. Azure Stack HCI is a secure by default product with over 300 security settings enabled right from the start.

Seamless integrations with Azure services also enable on-premises clusters to utilise Azure Active Directory accounts and Role-Based Access Control (RBAC). For IT, creating and managing VMs can be done directly from the Azure portal using Azure Arc.

Remote office / branch office (ROBO)

If you have multiple branches or remote locations, Azure Stack HCI integrates these edge and remote branches into the core infrastructure to provide access to the on-premises resources and security they need, while simultaneously improving performance and minimising costs. You can also monitor all your ROBO scenarios from a single interface – meaning physical location is no longer an inhibiting factor.

Virtual Desktop Infrastructure

Pairing Azure Virtual Desktop with Azure Stack HCI allows you to deploy session hosts for Azure Virtual Desktop where you need them. For example, if users have limited connectivity to the Azure public cloud, you can deploy session hosts closer to their geographical location to reduce latency and improve their experience. Or, for legacy on-premises apps and data sources, keep desktops and apps in the same location to improve access.

Disaster Recovery

Operate at scale by supporting clusters of up to sixteen nodes each, and supporting cross-site disaster recovery or disaster recovery failover to Azure. Customers can scale up to 16PB of storage per cluster and utilise storage virtualisation to meet the most demanding storage requirements, utilising combinations of NVME, SSD, and HDD to meet performance and capacity requirements.

Run intensive workloads

Customers can scale the performance of their Azure Stack HCI clusters to meet the performance and capacity requirements of different workloads, even intensive ones, including:

Deploy and operate containerised apps

While you can manage a few containers manually, using Azure Kubernetes Service (AKS) functionality on Windows Server, Azure Stack HCI allows you to automate the running of containerised applications at scale and at speed while delivering lower latency to your end users or devices.

Azure PaaS services on AKS By combining AKS and Arc, you can configure custom locations for a range of Azure services, allowing you to run them on-premises, including App Service, Functions, Logic Apps, SQL Managed Instance, PostgreSQL, and Event Grid.

Familiar and centralised management tools

Azure Stack HCI’s unified interface allows for central monitoring and management of all workloads, whether they are located on-premises or in the Azure cloud. Organisations can also run virtualised workloads on-premises using familiar Windows Server tools and management interfaces like Windows Admin Center. Integration options with other Azure services support hybrid scenarios such as cloud-based site recovery, monitoring, and more.

HPE services to support your journey

HPE begins your journey into ASHCI with the utilisation of the CloudPhysics platform. This platform offers data-driven insights aimed at enhancing IT performance, return on investment (ROI), and data protection by conducting a thorough analysis of your IT environment. By extracting detailed configuration and resource utilisation data from virtual machines and storage arrays, HPE CloudPhysics promptly identifies optimisation opportunities. Additionally, it simulates right-sized migrations to new infrastructure, ensuring smooth transitions and maximising operational efficiency.

HPE provide a range of hardware options for Azure Stack HCI cluster nodes. With HPE, the cost is predictable and aligned to actual usage, and can easily be configured as either a CAPEX or OPEX model. HPE provide the tools to effectively manage ongoing costs and usage through HPE GreenLake Central.

Customers can opt to expand the solution to include enhanced support services to manage the hardware, the cluster, or a full managed service. Simplifying your IT with optional implementation, monitoring, operations, support, and administration via Managed Infrastructure, Platform, and Workload.

Ready to get started?

Let Data#3 help you kickstart your hybrid cloud strategy, using HPE CloudPhysics. Offering an unparalleled opportunity to gain visibility, optimise workloads, and lower costs, HPE CloudPhysics lets you accelerate decision-making across your entire estate. With a simple deployment process, you can quickly and easily access valuable insights – at no cost.

Take advantage of our complimentary assessment and 90-day free trial of HPE CloudPhysics to drive operational excellence, innovation, and business growth.