AWS is undeniably the big kahuna in cloud services, however Microsoft has emerged as a strong number two with the Azure IaaS/PaaS combination, which it is now extending into private clouds via Azure Stack, a packaged version of Azure services that can be deployed in private data centers. The goal is to deliver a completely consistent hybrid cloud platform regardless of where organizations choose to deploy their applications. In this column targeted to IT channel partners, VARs, service providers and their SMB customers, I outline the basics of Azure Stack, the hybrid cloud vision and customer demand fueling it, where it fits and the business opportunities.
As I previously discussed when Azure Stack was unveiled,
Microsoft’s strategy to continue the growth is an all-in bet on hybrid cloud, which it sees addressing business concerns like infrastructure, application and transaction latency, data sovereignty and control regulations and needs for customized infrastructure that can’t be met in a public, shared-services environment. Its solution, via Azure Stack, is to bring Azure inside the enterprise. Azure Stack provides full private-public cloud compatibility for developers and ISVs (common APIs and automation tools), business analysts (consistent design patterns and service elements) and IT (the same management console, admin constructs and access controls). This is possible because Azure Stack uses the same code base as public Azure: the internal differences primarily occur at the hardware level to account for idiosyncrasies of Azure’s much larger scale and occasional use of one-off, non-commercial hardware.
Since public Azure is designed for warehouse-scale data centers and is typically deployed on clusters of 20 racks with 1,000 nodes, scaling the design down to a size usable by most organizations is challenging. Although the Azure Stack preview (aka POC) will run on a single beefy machine, the general release will require a minimal deployment of four nodes. This focus on the hardware is to underscore the minimum level of cloud capacity an organization needs before Azure Stack makes sense. Organizations not running at least 200 simultaneous VMs and prepared to spend over $100K on new hardware need not apply. For partners this means Azure Stack must be positioned for large and medium enterprises: SMBs are best served either evolving to all public cloud or using an MSP for private workloads. That said, Azure Stack should be a compelling option for large enough Microsoft shops, particularly those already using or experimenting with Azure public cloud.
Perhaps a more intriguing partner, VAR and SP opportunity for Azure Stack is targeting specific markets, whether industry verticals, underserved geographies or niche use cases, with tailored services by using Azure Stack as the foundation for their own set of cloud services. See the column for details.
In sum, Azure Stack holds promise for customers that have firmly committed to a true hybrid-cloud architecture, understand what that entails, and want the flexibility to easily spread workloads across both private and public infrastructure. That said, it will be most appealing to those that have built their private infrastructures on Windows Server, Microsoft System Center and Hyper-V, not vSphere shops.
Customers already using Azure IaaS and PaaS will love Azure Stack since there’s no learning curve, and applications built for public Azure can seamlessly move to a private cloud without change.