“The most important thing to know about Azure Stack is that it is not all about Virtual Machines. While you can certainly run IaaS workloads, the true power is unlocked when you start developing modern applications that can run on Azure Stack and in Azure.”
Intro to Azure Stack
Microsoft announced the much-anticipated availability of Azure Stack at the recent Inspire conference in the US. Azure Stack has been in the works for a long time – it was initially announced in 2015. Throughout the development, Ensyst has been working with Microsoft, hardware vendors and other partners as part of the Azure Stack Early Adopter Initiative. This ensures we are positioned to assist organisations to understand and embrace this new solution from launch.
In this post I’ll give you an overview of what Azure Stack is – and what it is not – and I will touch on the high level uses cases we think will be most relevant here in Australia. In subsequent posts I will drill into those use cases and also pricing options in a bit more detail.
So, what is Azure Stack anyway?
Many people think that Azure Stack is Azure running in their own data centre – but this is something of an oversimplification. More accurately, Azure Stack is a subset of the functionality available in Microsoft’s public cloud platform. The functionality that is available is consistent with the functionality in the public cloud. Both Azure and Azure Stack use the Azure Resource Manager (ARM) to represent infrastructure as code. This is exposed through APIs that are the same – although frequently Azure Stack is using a slightly older version. This means that scripts and code developed to manage resources on Azure can largely be reused to manage resources on Azure Stack and vice versa.
To ensure a consistent and controlled experience, Azure Stack is only going to be available as an integrated system. That means you will procure the software with hardware that has been extensively tested and qualified to run Azure Stack. However, while there is a capital cost for the hardware you don’t purchase the Azure Stack software – rather you pay for consumption of Azure Stack as you use it.
The most important thing to know is that this is not all about Virtual Machines. While you can certainly run IaaS workloads, the true power is unlocked when you start developing modern applications that can run on Azure Stack and in Azure.
So when would I use Azure Stack?
As I have highlighted, Azure Stack offers a subset of the functionality that is available in Azure. There are many countries that do not have Azure data centres in country and in those countries you will probably see local service providers running Azure Stack to allow organisations to run modern applications in country. But what are the key use cases here in Australia where we do have Azure data centres in country?
In my view there are two key questions that you need to answer to determine if Azure Stack should be considered as part of your Hybrid Cloud strategy.
Firstly ask, do you want to build and run modern applications that leverage the cloud platform? If you are only considering IaaS workloads then I would suggest that there are other ways to address that requirement on premises. Azure Stack really starts to add value when you are leveraging the PaaS capabilities like Web Apps and Functions.
Secondly, are there barriers that prevent you running some of your workloads in the Azure public cloud? This can be further explored by asking yourself some more questions. Does corporate policy prohibit public cloud? Are there compliance concerns? Is the latency between your key locations and the Azure data centres too great? Is connectivity unreliable? Do I need to run disconnected?
If you consider those questions there are use cases that suggest themselves.
Consider, for instance, organisations such as government and financial institutions that want to keep key applications and data internal. Azure Stack would allow them to build modern cloud applications but keep them contained to data centres they control. Or consider an organisation where a great deal of the activity happens well away from the Sydney and Melbourne locations of the Azure data centres; perhaps a mining company. They may be able to achieve much more by doing some processing of data close to where it is created and leveraging the public cloud scale for data warehousing and more granular analysis.
What’s the catch?
There are a couple of things to be aware of before you head down this path. As I alluded to, Azure Stack provides a subset of the functionality that Azure provides. As such, if you are planning to leverage this solution to run modern applications in your data centre then you will need to be cognisant of what functionality is included. The Azure Stack white paper includes a summary of the functionality that is available today.
Also, as noted earlier, the versions of the management APIs and functionality available on Azure Stack may be different to that currently available in Azure. If you want to ensure that your applications function in both, you will need to use policy to limit your Azure subscription to the functionality available in Azure Stack.
It is also important to note that there are some planned features that are not available yet. For instance, currently an Azure Stack deployment only supports a single scale set and a single region, though multi-region support is targeted for CY18.
I will explore some of the key use cases in my next posts. In the meantime, I hope that this has given you enough to consider how Azure Stack might work for you. If you have questions, please feel to reach out – we would be happy to have a discussion to explore how Azure Stack could help you.
*featured image source: Michael Ruefli