jigsawbridge.jpgWhile many of you will have heard about Azure Stack, I wonder if it’s as many as Microsoft would like?!

First announced at Microsoft Ignite 2015, the vision was to bring Public Azure to your own datacentre in a Public Azure consistent model. In the early days Microsoft Azure Stack (MAS) was limited in scope with not all services available at the initial launch – for example, the initial plan was for an Azure Resource Manager (ARM) only deployment model. It also soon became apparent that there was no clear information on hardware requirements either. Microsoft were quite tight-lipped on this issue but we knew that there would be Storage Spaces Direct and Hyper-V under the bonnet at the very least.

A range of public beta’s then gave interested parties the option to test the standalone single node MAS followed by an Early Adopter program allowing for testing of the more complex elements of the solution. It was also discovered that MAS would be released on Reference Architecture only (with the exception of the single node beta which could run on any hardware). Three hardware vendors then entered the frame with Dell (now DellEMC), HPE and Lenovo all confirming they were working closely to provide Microsoft with the kit to run MAS on. The release version of MAS was provided to these hardware partners in July of 2017 and deliveries were being accepted by them in the final quarter of 2017. The early single server beta version also morphed into the Azure Stack Development Kit allowing technical teams to install a feature locked version in their own test environments.

Buyers now have the opportunity to acquire MAS in three versions, varying by the number of compute nodes and the resource available to use. For more detail it is worth reading the MAS blog which is constantly updated with info on MAS direct from Microsoft here.

So why would a business be interested in MAS against traditional Managed Services provision from their hosting solutions provider?

The Hybrid Play

Microsoft are without a doubt convinced that Hybrid is the way forward. Business, Public Sector, Healthcare and Financial Services all have a massive investment in their on-site or hosted infrastructure and Microsoft know that not everyone will jump from their current IT solutions to Public Azure. The reasons for this are varied:

  • Predicting the cost of a move to Public Cloud can be difficult and complex. Pricing calulators exist but the university degree required to fully predict cost doesn’t yet!
  • Security and Data Sovereignty isn’t always clear. Gartner rather formally says “Changes in the geopolitical outlook of the European Union are also changing the market requirements; with the U.K. triggering Clause 50 of the Lisbon Treaty to leave the European Union, the geographic location of the data center has never been more relevant.”
  • No desire to run applications on the internet. Many businesses understand that it’s perhaps less than desirable to run workloads in their offices. The usual challenges of power, cooling and security apply here and a datacentre will always provide a better solution than on premise. However, what if you don’t want to run your apps across the Internet?
  • Perceived lack of control over data in the Cloud. “Let it go” proclaimed Elsa in Frozen a few years ago (thank you, snow day, for that inspiration), however actually letting go and trusting in a Cloud Provider isn’t quite that straightforward!

Microsoft Azure Stack promises to address these issues in many ways.

The Azure Stack Play

Azure Stack is the real Hybrid Play from Microsoft. It seeks to address many of the concerns senior IT managers and directors harbour for Cloud.

Gartner defines managed hybrid cloud hosting as “a standardized, productized hosting offering that combines a cloud-enabled system infrastructure (CESI) platform — consisting of a pool of compute, network and storage hardware — and cloud infrastructure framework software to facilitate self-service and rapid provisioning.”

Traditionally these things don’t always exist in on-premise traditional architecture which, more often than not, evolve over time via organic growth rather than according to any master plan. Integrating these ideal hybrid cloud features with traditional on-premise or hosted solutions is a solid transformational step however and one to be encouraged.

MAS addresses the core concerns I mentioned before quite neatly:

      • Cost: MAS is made up of two cost elements with some sub-division for the calculation of consumption. Overall the amount of compute you buy will dictate the volume of services you can run giving you a much better idea of costs:
        • Hardware: Azure Stack is delivered as an integrated system with all the required software installed on all the required hardware. Choose a 4, 8 or 12 node cluster (16 coming soon!) and you’ll know absolutely the cost of the kit required to run it.
        • Azure Costs: This one is a bit more confusing but still easier to understand and predict cost;
          • Pay-as-you-Use: The simplest model sees you paying Azure Software consumption costs via an appropriate subscription in the same way as you consume Public Azure but at a fraction of the cost. ($6 per month per vCPU and $34 per month per Windows virtual machine for example). This makes a D2V2, for example, only $46 per month before hardware costs.
          • Bring your Own License: This is open to any organisation with appropriate Microsoft agreements – EA, Open or SPLA provided by a hosting partner. For BYOL this means you only pay the base virtual machine costs of $6 per vCPU per month plus storage.
      • Security: The favourite of auditors and regulators everywhere – where is your data and how secure is it? MAS hardware is deployed exactly where you want it to be. Always best placed with your datacentre partner who can provide the cooling, power and security to protect and feed your Stack as well as providing all the necessary expertise around the provision of network connectivity to and from it.
      • Keeping Apps off the Internet: These are often called Edge or Disconnected Solutions. With MAS you can deploy Azure native applications at the network edge without the need for them being accessible via the internet. MAS can integrate with your private network and connect into your MPLS to ensure you don’t need to create complex private links to the public cloud.
      • Control: Your MAS solution is fully supported at a hardware level by the supplier you buy from and at a software level by Microsoft themselves. Beyond that, you’re in charge. You can define plans, products and service, which can be made available to your business as needed.

There are of course other benefits that can be delivered by iomart as your managed service provider:

      • Interconnectivity: Deploying a consistent, private interconnected Azure Stack hybrid cloud development environment within iomart datacentres, gives you the highest levels of security, compliance and physical reliability for your most sensitive data and application implementations. Beyond this however you’re also opening up the ability to connect upstream to Public Azure and downstream into your own network using iomart’s network and ExpressRoute connections
      • Multiple Purchase Models: iomart can provide multiple options for Azure Stack. We will be deploying MAS in a shared model allowing customers access to Azure services from an iomart datacentre. We can also provide MAS in a dedicated model managing everything from initial scoping to ongoing support and management
      • Microsoft Cloud Solutions Provider Program: iomart can not only provide the hardware but we can provide the Azure agreements needed to use Azure Stack services via the CSP program.

As one of the longest established cloud companies in Europe, and with an ultra secure and fully compliant network of data centres, iomart really is the ideal partner to host your infrastructure. Working closely with Microsoft, our team is ideally placed to deliver the perfect hybrid cloud with Azure Stack.

In closing I’ll end with Microsoft’s own words:

“Azure Stack is an extension of Azure, bringing the agility and fast-paced innovation of cloud computing to on-premises environments. Only Azure Stack lets you deliver Azure services from your organisation’s data centre, while balancing the right amount of flexibility and control for truly consistent hybrid cloud deployments.”

Authored by Paul Jeffrey, iomart’s Technical Services Director.