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What Does Azure Stack Mean for the Enterprise?

At the Ignite 2015 conference Microsoft had announced a few details about what Azure Stack is, and that at its most basic level it’s Azure Services that run in the On-Premises, Enterprise Data Center. Back when Microsoft Azure launched in 2010, there was a promise of Azure in your Data Center, that wasn’t talked about for a couple years. Thankfully they’ve brought it back as Azure Stack, and it’s proven to be quite a large effort for Microsoft to plan, implement and integrate with Windows Server. Now that the initial Technical Preview of Azure Stack is available for download, what exactly does Azure Stack mean for the Enterprise? This article will outline the details to answer that question.

Azure Services in Your Data Center

Microsoft has very aggressively grown the entire Azure platform (IaaS, PaaS and SaaS) services over the last 6 years into the best Cloud platform. Recent Microsoft earnings released show evidence of both the success of Azure and how much it means for the future of Microsoft. One area that has fallen a bit behind in Windows Server and what it provides for on-premises, enterprise data centers. After all, there only been 2 updates to Windows Server in the last six years since Azure launched; Windows Server 2012 and 2012 R2. While enterprises are traditionally slow to deploy the latest version of Windows Server (for many reason that make plenty of business sense), it’s still definitely time for the Windows Server vNext to come. And, appropriately Microsoft is readying Windows Server 2016 and the all new Azure Stack along with it to bring Azure features into availability to host within the on-premises, enterprise data center.
Microsoft Azure is made up of some very complicated pieces of software; from the Service Fabric and Controllers to custom versions of both Windows Server and SQL Server, along with many other proprietary pieces of software built to handle all the powerful infrastructure of VM hosting, Storage and every other feature of the Azure platform. It really is no mystery why it’s taken them so long to get a version of Azure that can be hosted within your own data center. Thankfully, the time has come where we can all download and try out Azure Stack and begin figuring out a long term strategy for its adoption along side Microsoft Azure to continue building out hybrid-cloud solutions.

Business Implications

From a technology standpoint having Microsoft Azure running within your own, on-premises data center sounds really cool. However, what are the business implications? What does this really mean for the enterprise?
While additional training will be needed to get all the members of your Enterprise IT team up to speed with using Azure Stack, just as many companies are embarking on with Microsoft Azure currently. Fortunately there is a lot of consistency between the Management Portal, API’s and SDK’s that work with both Microsoft Azure and Azure Stack. This means very little, if any, modifications to code and deployment scripts to be able to switch applications from running between Microsoft Azure and Azure Stack. This reuse not only has huge benefits of reducing training, but also a greatly improved flexibility to run applications either on-premises or in the Azure cloud.

Write once, deploy to Azure or Azure Stack

Microsoft Azure and Azure Stack mean a hybrid-cloud like no other. Your cloud, on your terms; whether in Microsoft data centers or your own Enterprise data center. Easily and flexibly go from Enterprise-scale (on-premises) data centers to Hyper-scale (Azure cloud) data centers when the business needs require.

What IT Pros and Developers Needs to Know

Just as the adoption of Microsoft Azure has and continues to provide many changes and new technologies for both Developers and IT Pros to learn and master; the introduction of Azure Stack will bring with it many similar challenges. Microsoft has announced that both Microsoft Azure and Azure Stack will come with consistent and compatible API’s and Tools for implementation. This means there will be minimal changes necessary to alternatively deploy, host or manage Azure Services whether they’re hosted in Azure Stack or in the Microsoft Azure Cloud. In addition to development tools and API’s, their is a Management Portal for the Azure Stack environment that is consistent with the Azure Management Portal since it’s built with the same code as Azure.

“Azure and Azure Stack have a standardized architecture, including the same portal, a unified application model, and common DevOps tools.”

Here’s a list of some of the Azure Stack environment highlights for both IT Pros and Developers to understand:

  • Azure Stack has a familiar Web Portal; as it’s the same code as Azure
  • Use the tools you know; focus on solving problems, rather than learning new development and deployment tools
  • Reuse Automation code; powered by a consistent API for automation, development, deployment and the management capabilities
  • Deployment and Configuration in a single, coordinated operation; done via the web portal or programmatically through a consistent SDK
  • Templated Deployments across different environments such as Testing, Staging and Production

The first Technical Preview of Azure Stack was made available Jan 29, 2016. While this is the first public preview, it offer the benefits of providing feedback to Microsoft and the ability to start getting familiar with the new platform and begin planning how to integrate it into your Enterprise data center when General Availability (GA) arrives.

Services Supported

What Azure Stack services will be supported when Azure Stack goes to General Availability (GA)? Here’s a list of the Azure Stack services Microsoft has planned for the initial GA release of Azure Stack:

  • Compute – Virtual Machines, Service Fabric
  • Data & Storage – Blobs, Tables, Queues
  • Networking – Virtual Network, Load Balancer, VPN Gateway
  • Mgmt. & Security – Microsoft Azure Portal, Key Vault
  • Web & Mobile – App Service (Web Apps, Logic Apps, Mobile Apps, API Apps)
  • Developer Services – Azure SDK

While the above isn’t the full feature set within Microsoft Azure (which is extremely huge and diverse), it does include all of the most commonly used features that are necessary for an initial release of Azure Stack to make it useful for the enterprise.

Hardware and Deployment Requirements

Before downloading Azure Stack and setting it up on a server you will need to ensure can meet the necessary requirements for setting up your own on-premises Azure environment.
Here’s a short list of the system requirements for setting up Azure Stack on a physical machine or virtual machine (VM):

  • Windows Server 2016 Datacenter Edition – with the Azure Stack TP1 release you will need Windows Server 2016 Datacenter Edition Technical Preview (TP) 4
  • Latest Window Server 2016 updates, including KB 3124262
  • The machine does NOT need to be joined to a Domain

The above are the major requirements for setting up Azure Stack, but there is a much more detailed list of networking requirements and information available within the documentation.

Whitepaper and Other Documentation

There is a very large amount of information and documentation on Azure Stack that’s already been published by Microsoft. These resources provided the source materials for this article. To read these materials, including an Azure Stack Whitepaper and other documentation, please review the following links:

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Chris Pietschmann

Chris is an Azure Solutions Architect with more than 14 years of experience building Enterprise systems using a wide array of Microsoft technologies, including Bing Maps and the Microsoft Azure cloud. He has been a 5 time recipient of the Microsoft MVP award. Chris has successfully implemented numerous Enterprise solutions on the Microsoft Azure Cloud Platform since its initial release all the way back in 2010.

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