Azure Stack To Advance Hybrid Cloud, DevOps and Serverless Computing

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More than two years after Microsoft revealed plans to offer its Azure Stack software to makers of hybrid cloud-based appliances, Azure Stack is now set for release this September. Azure Stack, which lets enterprises and service providers run their own mirror images of Microsoft’s cloud platform in their own datacenters, is a strategic deliverable as the company looks to advance modern IT architectures including hybrid cloud, DevOps and serverless computing.

The first Azure Stack appliances will be available in September from Dell EMC, Hewlett Packard Enterprise and Lenovo, with Microsoft’s newest partners, Cisco and Huawei, set to release their offerings by year’s end and in the first quarter of 2018, respectively. Microsoft announced the release plans, pricing and the service options at its Inspire conference (formerly known as Worldwide Partner Conference), taking place this week in Washington, D.C.

“We’re building out Azure as the first hyper-scale cloud that supports true distributed computing with Azure Stack,” said Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella in Monday’s opening keynote address.

Some beg to differ as to whether Azure Stack appliances will be “the first” hybrid cloud offerings delivered to organizations, since products from VMware or OpenStack-based appliances may have claimed that turf. But Microsoft argues it brings the software-defined infrastructure offered in Windows Server 2016 (such as Storage Spaces Direct, Hyper-V and support for containers) to a common application development, deployment and systems management model.

“You’re writing one set of code, you’re updating one set of code, you’re deploying one set of code but it is running in two places,” said Microsoft Corporate VP Julia White, during a press briefing at Inspire. “In a Visual Studio dropdown, you can select Azure or Azure Stack. It’s that simple.”

The initial systems will allow customers to provision and manage both IaaS and PaaS workloads via the Azure Portal, effectively choosing Azure Stack as a region. While workloads running in Azure Stack initially are limited, Microsoft officials say they cover the most widely used capabilities in Azure. Among them are Virtual Machines (base VMs and Windows Server), Storage (Blob, Table and Queue) and PaaS offerings via the Azure App Service (including Web Apps, Mobile Apps, API Apps and Functions).

Microsoft said it will continue to push additional capabilities and templates over time. In the short-term pipeline is IoT Hub and the Azure Data Service, said Microsoft Senior Product Director Mark Jewett. While Azure stack doesn’t yet support Azure Data Services, customers can run SQL Server in Azure Stack. “We can certainly deliver database as a service,” said Jewett.

Jewett and White also pointed to the ability to run the Azure App Service Stack on premises, notably PaaS services, the common API model and Azure Functions, which lets organizations move to serverless computing. Nadella in his keynote also said he sees serverless computing as the next wave in application development, deployment and management. “Virtualization has been amazing, but now this new era of micro services, containers and serverless [computing] is going to be fundamentally transformative to the core of what we write as applications,” he said.

Azure Stack will appeal to those who have data sovereignty requirements where information can’t be stored in the public cloud, edge computing scenarios where connectivity is unavailable or sporadic such as cruise ships and oil rigs and those looking to build new cloud-based applications that run on premises or extend existing legacy systems.

While Azure Stack isn’t the first hybrid cloud appliance, Microsoft is looking to make the case that it’s the first to share a common control plane across on-premises and public clouds. Paul Galjan, senior director of product management for Dell EMC Hybrid Cloud Platforms, agrees. “It is unique,” he said. “It fits into a niche in the market that no other software vendor is offering anything quite like it.”

Dell EMC, which launched a single-node developer edition of Azure Stack back in May that costs $20,000, will offer appliances that support up to 12 modes. The initial systems will be based on the company’s PowerEdge R730XE systems. Dell EMC will follow shortly with iterations based on its new 14G server platform,¬†announced at¬†Dell EMC World, which will be built using the new Intel Xeon Scalable (“Skylake”) processors, officially¬†launched¬†yesterday.

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