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Azure Stack Product Overview and Deployment Options

This is the first of a two-part series. In our second post, we’ll discuss use cases for Azure Stack and compare it to Microsoft Azure. 

Azure Stack: A Product Overview

Microsoft Azure is growing at an incredible pace.  Organizations are now in a race to the cloud and, for the most part, it makes sense for them to be.  Cloud offerings and services such as Azure represent the most significant changes to the IT landscape since virtualization first appeared. Why wouldn’t organizations want to leverage the features and capabilities that providers like Microsoft Azure offer?

There remain organizations that want to access to the robust features offered by Microsoft Azure WITHOUT having to move all of its resources into the public cloud.  If an organization can’t or simply doesn’t want to move its resources into the cloud, does that mean it misses out on all of those cool features and benefits? Not really.

Enter Microsoft Azure Stack

Microsoft Azure Stack is essentially a hybrid cloud platform that brings the features of Microsoft Azure to the on-premises datacenter, allowing organizations to support new and evolving business requirements.  With Azure Stack, businesses can more easily meet critical security and compliance requirements by leveraging Azure-specific features that were once only available in the cloud.

As an extension of Microsoft Azure, Azure Stack brings cloud computing benefits into on-premises data centers – putting the innovation of Microsoft Azure within reach for those organizations that can’t quite move to the cloud for one reason or another.  With Azure Stack, organizations can deploy modern applications across hybrid cloud environments. 

Deployment Options

Microsoft offers two deployment options for those organizations interested in leveraging Azure Stack: Azure Stack Integrated Systems and Azure Stack Development Kit.

Azure Stack Integrated Systems

The Azure Stack integrated systems offering is made available through Microsoft’s partnership with numerous hardware suppliers.  This solution offers cloud-centric innovation, along with management simplicity. Because this solution is an integrated hardware/software system, it offers flexibility and control that provides simplified management, along with the ability to innovate from the cloud.  Azure Stack integrated systems come in many sizes. Small solutions of 4 nodes are available – as are larger offerings with as many as 12 nodes. Such hardware solutions are jointly supported by the hardware partner and Microsoft.

Azure Stack integrated systems should be used by organizations to deploy production solutions that are intended for production workloads.

Azure Stack Development Kit

The Microsoft Azure Stack Development Kit (ASDK), also known as the ASDK, is a single-node deployment of Azure Stack.  This solution is intended for organizations that are interested in evaluating and learning about Microsoft Azure Stack.  The ASDK is also a great development environment that can be leveraged when building and developing applications that use APIs and tooling that are consistent with Azure.

Because the ASDK isn’t intended to be used as a production environment, there are a few key limitations.  For example, the ASDK can only be associated with a single Azure Active Directory or Active Directory Federation Services identity provider.  In addition, the components of Azure Stack are deployed on just one host computer. As such, there are obviously limited physical resources available. Due to the host and NIC limitations, the ASDK is not scalable, and, as such, is not intended for production workloads.

Microsoft offers two main deployment modes for Azure Stack: fully-disconnected and Internet-connected.  The pay-as-you-use model is available in the latter case. However, in a fully-disconnected deployment the organization is charged, based on the number of CPU cores in the Stack.  Deploying Azure Stack on-premises requires the connection of the on-premises network to the Azure AD tenant via Border Gateway Protocol (BGP) configuration.

What Azure Stack Isn’t

Azure Stack is NOT a DIY virtualization platform.  It’s NOT a replacement for an existing Hyper-V solution or VMware solution.  Because it’s delivered as a turn-key solution, the business does not get to select the hardware that runs Azure Stack.  Heck, Microsoft doesn’t even allow organizations to run agents for backup or anti-virus on Azure Stack hosts. While monitoring hosts is feasible via agent-less solutions, monitoring tools that require agents won’t work.

While a typical Windows server or VMware host can run in a set-and-forget fashion, Azure Stack cannot be set and forgotten.  To ensure continued support, Azure Stack hosts must be patched/updated at least every three months. Such updates are intended to keep Azure Stack in sync with the cloud-based Azure platform.

Ultimately, Azure Stack is meant to COMPLEMENT existing on-premises and cloud-based virtualization solutions that are in place.  It’s not meant to replace them. Replacing such solutions with Azure Stack just to run virtual machines would be an awfully expensive mistake.

Up Next

In my next post, I’ll dive into some use cases and compare its capabilities with those of Azure.

Written by

Tom is not only a Cloud Platform & Infrastructure MCSE but also an IT industry veteran with 20+ years of experience in multiple technologies. An Active Directory specialist, Tom has never met an AD problem that he couldn't solve. He also speaks Microsoft Exchange fluently.

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