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Everything You Need To Know About Microsoft Azure Stack

stack1Before we discuss Azure Stack, it’s important to understand Windows Azure Pack. I know I know, very confusing names, Pack and Stack. Windows Azure Pack was released in early fall 2013. Here’s a brief synopsis:
Windows Azure Pack for Windows Server is a collection of Windows Azure technologies, available to Microsoft customers at no additional cost for installation into your data center.
It runs on top of Windows Server 2012 R2 and System Center 2012 R2 and, through the use of the Windows Azure technologies, enables you to offer a rich, self-service, multi-tenant cloud, consistent with the public Windows Azure experience.
Cool! What does that really mean?

  • Management portal for tenants – a customizable self-service portal for provisioning, monitoring, and managing services such as Web Site Clouds, Virtual Machine Clouds, and Service Bus Clouds.
  • Management portal for administrators – a portal for administrators to configure and manage resource clouds, user accounts, and tenant offers, quotas, and pricing.
  • Service management API – a REST API that helps enable a range of integration scenarios including custom portal and billing systems.
  • Web Site Clouds – a service that helps provide a high-density, scalable shared web hosting platform for ASP.NET, PHP, and Node.js web applications. The Web Site Clouds service includes a customizable web application gallery of open source web applications and integration with source control systems for custom-developed web sites and applications.
  • Virtual Machine Clouds – a service that provides infrastructure-as-a-service (IaaS) capabilities for Windows and Linux virtual machines. The Virtual Machine Clouds service includes a VM template gallery, scaling options, and virtual networking capabilities.
  • Service Bus Clouds – a service that provides reliable messaging services between distributed applications. The Service Bus Clouds service includes queued and topic-based publish/subscribe capabilities.
  • SQL and MySQL – services that provide database instances. These databases can be used in conjunction with the Web Sites service.
  • Automation – the capability to automate and integrate additional custom services into the services framework, including a runbook editor and execution environment.

Microsoft’s vision is to enable the same Azure technology on your datacenter or hosted service,. This is huge! Windows Azure Pack was the beginning, enabling some of the services such as Websites in your datacenter. Azure Stack is the next genesis of that vision.
By enabling a consistent development and operations platform, your Developers and IT Pro’s can create 1 artifact that will deploy on any Azure system. They can also build skills that are transferable to both your internal and external platforms. Smart, very smart.
Also, Microsoft does not want to be the only service provider on the block – which may surprise some of you. Microsoft understands by enabling a hybrid ecosystem, vendors and other service providers can build products that enable further adoption of the Azure platform. This will only help the community around Azure to continue to grow.
For those of you who have made investments in Windows Azure Pack, don’t worry, it’s not going anywhere. Microsoft will continue to follow the quarterly release schedule and it will support Windows Server vNext and System Center vNext capabilities.
At the same time, Microsoft aims to deliver more consistency through Azure Stack, which is a significant step forward to delivering the same services that are in the cloud to your datacenter.
This is an incredible challenge. Microsoft is deploying new code to Azure daily. There are a plethora of service updates and API inclusions that were announced at Build and Ignite, referred to as IaaS v2 and PaaS v2. In order to provide consistency in your datacenter or hosted environment, Microsoft Azure Stack needs to be released just as quickly – and Microsoft knows that is on them.
 What is Microsoft Azure Stack?
Azure Stack (formerly called Windows Azure Pack vNext) delivers IaaS and PaaS services into your datacenter so you can easily blend your enterprise applications such as SQL Server, SharePoint, and Exchange with modern distributed applications and services while maintaining centralized oversight.
Using Azure Resource Manager (released in preview last month), you get consistent application deployments every time, whether provisioned to Azure in the public cloud or Azure Stack in a datacenter environment. This approach is unique in the industry and gives your developers the flexibility to create applications once and then decide where to deploy them later – all with role-based access control to meet your compliance needs.
Built on the same core technology as Azure, Azure Stack packages Microsoft’s investments in automated and software-defined infrastructure from our public cloud datacenters and delivers them to you for a more flexible and secure datacenter environment.
For example, according to the Microsoft Server and Cloud Platform Team:

Azure Stack includes a scalable and flexible software-defined Network Controller and Storage Spaces Direct with automated sync and failover. Shielded VMs and Guarded Hosts bring “zero-trust” software-defined security to your private cloud so you can securely segment organizations and workloads and centrally control and monitor access and administration rights.

As you look at the below architecture of Azure Stack, you’ll notice it is different from Windows Azure Pack. There is only 1 browser experience – currently known as the Preview Portal. In addition, it is a:

  • Cloud-optimized application platform
    • Azure-based Compute, Network, and Storage services
  • Cloud-consistent service delivery
    • Portal enables integrated Admin/Tenant experiences
    • Resource Manager is the new Service Management API
    • Updated core management services
  • Cloud-inspired infrastructure
    • Windows Server-based compute, network, and storage

The Azure Stack Identity model features native support for Azure AD, Windows AD, and ADFS –

  • Claims-based identity used from clients to ARM API
  • Windows Auth or basic auth from ARM to Resource Providers
  • Resource Providers to resources Windows Auth or determined by RP

You’ll also notice in the below diagram that these services sit on top of the Compute Fabric, Network Fabric, and Storage Fabric; which is all part of the Azure Service Fabric that I blogged about last month.
Finally, the Azure Stack architecture provides the core management services depicted below.
Azure Stack is not yet available, however it will be made available as part of the 2016 wave of products. Those interested in Microsoft’s vision can start the journey by trying the new Azure Portal and Azure Resource Manager, or with Windows Server 2012 R2, System Center 2012 R2, and the Windows Azure Pack.
For more detailed commentary on the Azure Stack roadmap, I encourage you to watch this session replay from Ignite – http://channel9.msdn.com/Events/Ignite/2015/BRK2451
As always, you can contact us here at Perficient and one of our Certified Azure consultants would be happy to work with you on all your Azure needs.

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