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Azure Stack: Microsoft’s private-cloud platform and what IT pros need to know about it

Brandon Butler | July 17, 2017
AWS and Google Cloud have nothing like it yet.

Microsoft is very clear about what Azure Stack is not too. It’s not a standalone advanced virtualization platform. There are many non-cloud native applications – perhaps legacy ones, third-party software, or ones highly tuned for specific use cases – that do not fit the model of running in a cloud. Azure Stack is not meant for those, Tewari says. Microsoft offers other platforms, including Hyper-V based Microsoft Systems Center and Windows Server 2016 for these use cases.


What’s inside Azure Stack

Azure Stack is made of two basic components, the underlying infrastructure that customers purchase from one of Microsoft’s certified partners (initially Dell EMC, HPE and Lenovo) and software that is licensed from Microsoft.

The software includes basic IaaS functions that make up a cloud, such as virtual machines, storage and virtual networking. Azure Stack includes some platform-as-a-service (PaaS) application-development features including the Azure Container Service and Microsoft’s Azure Functions serverless computing software, plus MySQL and SQL Server support. It comes with Azure Active Directory for user authentication.

Customers also have access to a wide range of third-party apps from the Azure Marketplace, including OS images from companies like Red Hat and SuSE, and templates that can be installed to run programs like Cloud Foundry, Kubernetes and Mesosphere.

On the hardware side, Azure Stack runs on a hyperconverged infrastructure stack that Microsoft and its hardware vendors have certified. The smallest production-level Azure Stack deployment is a four-server rack with three physical switches and a lifecycle management server host. Individual racks can scale up to 12 servers, and eventually, multiple racks can be scaled together. Dell EMC, HPE and Lenovo are initial launch partners. Cisco plans to offer a certified Azure Stack platform based on its UCS hardware line by the end of 2017 and Huawei will roll out Azure Stack support by the end of 2018.

IDC Data Center Networking Research Analyst Brad Casemore says he believes customers will need to run at least a 10 Gigabit Ethernet cabling with dual-port mixing. Converged network interface cards, support for BGP and data center bridging are important too. Microsoft estimates that a full-sized, 12-rack server unit of Azure Stack can supply about 400 virtual machines with 2 CPUs and 7 GB of RAM, with resiliency.


How to buy it

Microsoft is offering multiple consumption models for Azure Stack. A software-only Azure Stack Development Kit (ASDK) is available now and is meant to be trial software for proof-of-concept purposes.

The combined hardware-software offering is named Azure Stack Integrated System and in this model customers buy hardware from one of the certified vendors (Dell EMC, HPE or Lenovo) and license the Azure Stack software to run atop it.


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