Research Library

Microsoft Azure Stack – Industry Snapshot

Published March 10th, 2017. John Webster, Sr. Analyst with Evaluator Group, discusses Microsoft's recent announcement on Azure Stack's TP3 availability. Download this free report now!

Microsoft Azure Announces Azure Stack TP3 Availability

Azure Stack will become Microsoft’s flagship hybrid cloud platform later this year. In the run-up to general availability (GA), Microsoft Azure has been releasing Technical Previews (TPs) of the platform that can be downloaded and tested. The TP is essentially a Proof of Concept (POC) vehicle for learning and demonstrating Azure Stack prior to GA in mid-2017. The latest—TP3 announced March 1, 2017—includes new features and updates to existing ones. TP3 will be the last Azure Stack preview prior to GA.

Azure Stack at a Glance

The Azure Stack hybrid cloud platform aims to recreate the Azure public cloud experience behind the enterprise firewall. Azure services—Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS) and Platform as a Service—available to users of the Azure public cloud can also be delivered from within the enterprise data center. For application users, the Azure Stack enterprise-side portal is the same as the public cloud portal.

Microsoft is also critically aware of the needs of application developers deploying to hybrid clouds as well as IT operations staff tasked with managing hybrid cloud environments. Azure Stack aims to build a strong foundational bridge between development and operational teams. Application developers can use a write-once, deploy-to-Azure Stack application delivery process. Development can occur on either the private or public side and put into production on either side as well because of its consistent application development environment. IT operations can then manage application user support and lifecycles from that point forward.

While the series of Technical Previews have been available for download and test on customer-supplied hardware, the GA version will only be available in the form of a purpose-built system. To acquire Azure Stack, customers will need to choose among the four current integrated system partners announced to date—Cisco, Dell EMC, Lenovo and HPE. The announcement of others may follow later this year.

Fundamentals

Upon GA, Microsoft will make sets of Azure services available on-premises to customers. These services can be roughly divided into two categories—IaaS and PaaS.

IaaS Services

  • Virtual Machines and Virtual Machine Scale Sets—for rapid deployment and automated scaling
  • Docker Containers—with support for both Linux and Windows Server containers
  • Networking—VPN, VPN Gateway and load balancing
  • Storage—blobs, tables and queues

PaaS Services

  • Azure App Service—for web, mobile and API applications
  • Azure Functions—automated, event-driven microservices that can be embedded within applications
  • Azure Service Fabric—for applications requiring distributed computing resources and fault tolerance (available post GA)
  • Azure Container Service—for container management (available post GA)
  • Cloud Foundry—Open source-based PaaS option

Azure Resource Manager (ARM)

Azure Resource Manager is an aggregation point for the management of multiple cloud resources such as VMs, storage, networking, servers, databases, etc. Using ARM, administrators can simplify deploying, managing, monitoring, updating and deleting multiple cloud resources. ARM also includes templates. A single template for application deployment can also be used testing, staging and final production.

Personas and Portals

Azure Stack defines two types of users: cloud administrators (providers) and tenants (application users). Cloud administrators provide and manage services as well as responding to alerts. They interact with Azure Stack through an administrative portal that is backed by a separate instance of ARM. Tenants consume services but can also be given the ability to provision, monitor and manage the services they have subscribed to. The tenant portal provides a self-service experience for the consumption of Azure Stack services.

Acquisition Model

As mentioned, Azure Stack is sold as a pre-integrated, turnkey hybrid cloud system available from Cisco, Dell EMC, HPE and Lenovo upon GA. Hardware is purchased directly from the hardware vendor who will also include hardware support and installation services. Hybrid cloud IaaS and PaaS services are billed on a fee-for-consumption basis by Microsoft Azure as if the services are running in the Azure public cloud. Existing Windows Server and SQL Server licensing agreements between the customer and Microsoft can be applied. Metering for services is applied as follows:

 

Service Metering Unit
Base VM Per vCPU/min
Windows Server VM Per CPU/min or Base VM fee + apply existing license
Azure Storage (blob, table, queue) Per GB with no additional transaction fee
Azure App Service Per CPU/min
Azure Functions Per GB-sec execution time and per million executions

 

Support and Problem Resolution

Because Azure Stack can only be acquired as an integrated solution from an infrastructure partner, customers will first have to decide if a problem should be resolved by Microsoft (Cloud Services Support) or the infrastructure partner (Systems Support). However, the goal is to offer a consistent support experience coupled with a coordinated escalation and problem resolution process so no matter which side the customer initially reaches out to, the problem will be resolved.

New in TP3

From the standpoint of the Azure Stack solution itself, Microsoft has released additions and enhancements to the Technical Previews in TP3. These include:

  • Azure Virtual Machine Scale Sets – now included in TP3 (were not available in TPs 1 and 2)
  • Isolated administrator portal
  • Improvements in IaaS and PaaS functionality vs. previous TPs
  • Enhanced infrastructure management vs. pervious TPs
  • Active Directory Federation Services for disconnected scenarios—identity options for scenarios where network connectivity is limited or intermittent
  • Azure Marketplace Syndication—content from the Azure Marketplace can be made available in Azure Stack

Microsoft will add Azure Functions, VM Extension syndication and multi-tenancy sometime between now and final GA. New workloads such as Blockchain, Cloud Foundry, and Mesos templates will also be added within this timeframe. Microsoft states that it will continue to refresh TP3 until GA in mid-2017.

Evaluator Group Comments

As enterprise IT pushes cloud computing strategies forward, most envision a hybrid cloud end state—one that integrates public clouds with private cloud resources. Public clouds are great for simplicity and agility. But control, customization and cost are perceived to be issues for certain critical applications that can be solved with a private cloud. Hence, the hybrid cloud. No matter where enterprise users go, the hybrid cloud can offer simplicity and agility of the public cloud with the customization and control of the private cloud.

We believe that the significance of Azure Stack—Microsoft’s strong entry into the hybrid cloud arena—can’t be understated. Microsoft Azure is the fastest growing public cloud—faster than Amazon Web Services (AWS). Azure Stack will assure the continuation of that forward momentum by allowing Azure services to emanate from behind the enterprise firewall. Upon GA, Azure Stack will become the hybrid cloud appliance that all others will be compared to.

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