What is Azure Stack? Here’s what you should know

Azure Stack
On July 10 at the Microsoft’s Inspire event, Azure Stack became available for order. (Azure Stack brings Azure into your data center).

This is significant for everyone watching the Azure Stack project and will, I think, be game-changing for cloud technology as a whole, regardless of the platform you favor.

In this post, we’ll cover the basics of Azure Stack by answering four questions:

  • What is Azure Stack?
  • Why is Azure Stack only available from approved vendors?
  • What are the use cases for Azure Stack?
  • How do you learn how to use Azure Stack?

Azure Stack will play a key role in broadening the reach of cloud methods into currently resistant enterprises. This means that learning Azure Stack will increase the value of your commitment to learning Azure. As more enterprises adopt Azure Stack, the use of Azure will also grow because more IT professionals and developers will become comfortable with cloud methodologies.

What is Azure Stack?

Azure Stack is Azure technology built on vetted hardware and distributed by approved vendors that bring Azure cloud technology into your data center. The vendors manage the hardware (as of this writing, Dell, Lenovo and HPE with Cisco coming soon) and Microsoft manages the software. As with Azure, you use Azure Stack to build solutions, not tinker with hardware.

Why is Azure Stack only available from approved vendors?

In January 2016, Azure announced a technical preview that allowed technologists to build an Azure Stack technical preview environment using their own hardware (the requirements were quite steep).

Many people thought Azure Stack would be deployed as a build-your-own solution. That expectation was disappointed by the announcement in July 2016 (by Mike Neil, Azure VP, Azure Infrastructure, and Management) that Azure Stack would only be available from approved hardware vendors.

Neil cited two main reasons for the decision:

  • Consume Azure innovation quickly. Customers want Azure-consistent services as they become available to stay up to date with the latest innovations in Azure. They are willing to trade off customization at the infrastructure layer to gain faster time to value.
  • Ensure quality and system reliability. Customers clearly reinforced our belief around quality and reliability. They are looking for an end-to-end solution that “just works,” not only at deployment time but also as new updates are introduced.

Read Mike Neil’s full article, Microsoft Azure Stack: Delivering cloud infrastructure as Integrated Systems.

Check out Jeffrey Snover’s presentation, Azure Stack, It’s More Radical Than You Think, for additional insight into the design philosophy of Azure Stack.

Jeffrey Snover's Azure Stack Keynote: July 2017
Jeffrey Snover’s Azure Stack Keynote: July 2017

Both Neil and Snover stress the importance of consistency between Azure and Azure Stack as the product’s key operational objective (image from Snover’s talk):

Azure and Azure Stack

(Image from Snover’s Azure Stack presentation)

What are the use cases for Azure Stack?

At the Azure Stack Use Cases site, Microsoft cites three primary scenarios:

  • For Edge and disconnected solutions

For example, remote or mobile locations with unreliable network connectivity (remote facilities, airplanes, and cruise ships are usually mentioned). In these scenarios, Azure Stack enables the use of Azure cloud methods without an Internet connection.

  • To support cloud applications that meet varied regulatory requirements

This is a significant area since there are many organizations that understand the value of cloud technology but are constrained by regulatory and other critical, non-technical concerns. Employing Azure Stack brings the benefits of the cloud while continuing to host computing assets within a private data center.

  • To bring the Cloud application model on-premise

Earlier, I mentioned the Azure Stack team’s emphasis on consistency. This isn’t merely marketing hype but the key to understanding Azure Stack’s design and the value it can bring to organizations (and also, why I think it will be a great success).
Applications developed on-premise for Azure Stack can effortlessly be deployed to Azure if and when you need to scale beyond the capabilities of your Azure Stack appliance.

Learning Azure Stack

Azure Stack Region
(Source: What is Azure Stack and what is the architecture?)

Although Azure Stack’s unique properties require learning several new concepts such as the Scale unit, (you can review them at Key features and concepts in Azure Stack and What is Azure Stack and what is the architecture?) all of the work you’ve already done, or will do, to directly learn Azure applies to Azure Stack.
So if you’re learning Azure by taking Cloud Academy’s Architecting Microsoft Azure Solutions or Developing Microsoft Azure Solutions courses (among others), you’ll be learning precisely the skills you need to manage an Azure stack deployment.

Of course, Microsoft also provides excellent learning material to help you get started with Azure Stack (for example, the guide to Configuring PowerShell for Azure Stack).

With Azure Stack, Microsoft brings Azure’s power and versatility into your data center, providing organizations an opportunity to modernize on-premise assets, develop cloud skills, and simplify (or ‘hyper converge’) infrastructure.

I’m confident that this is the future of information technology, and those of us who embrace it will enjoy interesting and lucrative work for years to come.

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