Azure Stack: Microsoft’s new ‘hybrid cloud’ solution

Azure Stack is Microsoft’s new solution to business cloud computing. Let’s take a look at what it is and how it works.

An overview of Azure Stack

An extension of the wildly successful Azure platform, Azure Stack allows organizations to use Azure directly inside their own data centre. It builds on familiar Azure technologies and tools to ensure easy access and maintenance. It includes a consistent, familiar environment and universal tools, such as:

  • Azure Resource Manager – to manage application models, self-service portal, and APIs
  • DevOps capabilities – integration and deployment tools like Jenkins, as well as automation tools like Chef and Azure Powershell DSC extensions
  • Open source technologies – such as Java, Python, Node, PHP, Cloud Foundry, and more

The secret weapon to Microsoft’s hybrid approach, Azure Stack allows easy communication between the public cloud and private servers, giving users the option to keep their sensitive or regulated data safely secured inside their data center (the Azure Stack environment) while offering them the ability to push it to the public cloud at any time. It also proves useful for companies without consistent Internet access, allowing them to store data via a private cloud and later transfer the data to the cloud – or vice versa.

Consider, for example, a cruise line that has hundreds of ships sailing all over the world, with no consistent access to the Internet. Instead of pulling data down and running it on their servers, Azure Stack offers a prebuilt, predetermined environment that can connect with the cloud when the ships come back into port.

A hybrid digital approach

Possibly the most important selling point for Azure Stack is its ability to integrate the public cloud with private cloud. Instead of working primarily on one, then separately uploading it and/or migrating workloads from one to the other, developers can simply create, manage, and transfer data within the Azure environment – and quickly and efficiently transfer workloads with one or two clicks.

Additionally, if an application or workload is too much for on-premises servers to handle, Azure can help users break it up and transfer it to the public cloud easily – with backups. This is an exceptional feature of the program, as Amazon Web Services, Google Cloud, and other big players in the public cloud market have yet to offer such an integrated approach or extension.

Pay to play

Since the package won’t be available until September of 2017, the fine details of how Microsoft plans to charge for Azure Stack are still unknown – but the pricing structure is looking promising. Microsoft has revealed that enterprises will be able to buy a license and service contract for the product, similar to how companies pay for the upfront package of Azure right now. In addition, a small fee will likely accompany the consumption of the resources in the cloud; in other words, you’ll have to “pay to play” based on how much you use the service.

Because enterprises will use their own private servers and hardware, the price for Azure Stack usage will most definitely be lower than the standard Azure cloud.

Use cases

The integrative nature of Azure Stack makes it a key player in a number of real-life scenarios and businesses. It can provide advantages in many relevant business situations, including the following:

  • Global, disconnected aggregation – Ideal for global companies with multiple branches. Address latency and connectivity issues by processing data locally and storing it in a format that can easily transfer to the public cloud once reconnection is established (see video here).
  • Regulatory requirements – Keep certain data on your private servers to comply with regulatory requirements, sovereignty, and/or security protocols.
  • On-premise modelling and deployments – Use the same tools both on-premise and in the cloud. Utilize the collaborative functions of Azure and Azure Stack to ensure a consistent, user-friendly approach.

When is Azure Stack available?

Microsoft has announced that the program will be available for general consumption by September 2017, with HP, Lenovo, and Cisco already on board to provide the hardware later in the fall. With its integrative features, number of uses in cloud computing, and affordable pay to play pricing schedule, Azure Stack looks like a promising hybrid-cloud solution.

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