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Microsoft Azure

First Public Preview of Microsoft Azure Stack


Today, Microsoft launched the first public preview of Microsoft Azure Stack. What is it, and is it relevant for you? Keep reading to learn all about Azure on your terms.

What is Microsoft Azure Stack?

Microsoft shared details of Microsoft Azure Stack (MAS) with the public for the first time at Microsoft Ignite 2015. What Microsoft showed us was stunning. Instead of mimicking Microsoft Azure with the Windows Azure Pack (WAPack) that’s powered by a complex implementation of System Center, Microsoft decided to take code from Azure and implement the fabric components in Windows Server 2016, along with the management and interface to develop a new product called MAS.

Note that MAS doesn’t require System Center, but you still might use System Center to manage your infrastructure. For example, you might deploy System Center Operations Manager in conjunction with the Azure-based Operations Management Suite (OMS) to monitor your MAS-based private/partner cloud fabric and systems.

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The key to Azure and MAS is consistency. Microsoft has long preached that the cloud OS should be consistent, enabling customers and partners to use one platform on customer sites, in partner hosting facilities, or in Microsoft Azure. Microsoft believes that where you deploy a solution should not impact how you design or deploy it. The solution was to bring not something like Azure to customers and partners, but to bring Azure itself to them.

Microsoft Azure Stack Benefits

The benefits of Microsoft Azure Stack are simple enough to explain:

  • A simplistic cloud: On one hand, I’ve heard people that are knowledgeable about WAPack admit that it’s an overly complex beast, where real-world projects often take months to complete. On the other hand, I’ve also heard from a few people involved in the private advanced testing of MAS that it’s a much simpler solution to deploy and configure.
  • Reduced training: The users of your private cloud will require less training; those who are using ARM, or “Azure V2,” will already know how to use MAS. The use of templates, storage accounts, and software-defined networking will be consistent with what they use in Microsoft Azure. The platforms are so consistent, that Microsoft claimed at Ignite that the PowerShell module for Azure can be used with MAS.
  • Consistent development: If the underlying fabrics are the same, then bespoke code will require little to no changes to run on either the public, private, or hosted cloud.

The work that Microsoft is doing on MAS is truly outstanding and unique:

  • VMware is struggling with their public cloud efforts, and there are reports of customers and partners embracing Microsoft’s Azure. Personally, I’m seeing VMware-first partners selecting Azure as their public cloud of choice for VMware customers.
  • Google and Amazon still focus on a message where on-premises or partner hosted solutions should not exist.

Meanwhile, Microsoft wants you to care more about what work you do rather than where you do it, enabling you to have one experience in public, partner, or private clouds.

Should You Use Microsoft Azure Stack?

This is the first preview of MAS, so it’s not ready for production. General availability might come soon after the GA release of Windows Server 2016 in September.

But is MAS suitable for your organization? Organizations with complex IT departments (centralized infrastructure and delegated administration) or with internal development/DevOps staff are probably Microsoft’s targets. MAS does require quite a bit of infrastructure, so this isn’t for a business with two or three Hyper-V hosts and a small IT staff. Large companies that require a true private cloud are the target customer, as are Microsoft partners that are deploying multi-tenant hosted infrastructures.

One platform that could benefit greatly is Microsoft’s Cloud Platform System (CPS), a certified hardware solution that provides a cloud in a rack. Currently CPS is based on WAPack, but it should be more interesting when and if it switches over to MAS.

Learn More About Microsoft Azure Stack

Azure CTO Mark Russinovich and Enterprise Cloud Chief Architect Jeffrey Snover will be presenting an event on February 3rd about Azure Stack, and you can learn much more then. Here’s a preview:

You can also see Microsoft’s official blog post, that outlines the announcement in detail.

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Aidan Finn, Microsoft Most Valuable Professional (MVP), has been working in IT since 1996. He has worked as a consultant and administrator for the likes of Innofactor Norway, Amdahl DMR, Fujitsu, Barclays and Hypo Real Estate Bank International where he dealt with large and complex IT infrastructures and MicroWarehouse Ltd. where he worked with Microsoft partners in the small/medium business space.
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