Channeling the Cloud

With Azure Stack, Microsoft Tries To Correct What Cloud OS Got Wrong

Introduced at Ignite, Azure Stack substantially advances the old Cloud OS Azure Pack by allowing organizations to build cloud infrastructures that truly mirror the experience of the Azure public cloud.

When Microsoft rolled out Windows Server 2012 and System Center 2012 along with the Microsoft Azure Pack nearly three years ago, it christened the bundled platform as its Cloud OS. In addition to letting customers build Azure-like private clouds in their datacenters, Cloud OS was designed to encourage partners to develop their own Azure-compatible services.

Microsoft's first stab at Cloud OS offers some of those capabilities, but many found it incomplete and complex. Consequently, few partners built and marketed Cloud OS-based hosting services. At last month's Ignite conference in Chicago, Microsoft signaled it will phase out the Cloud OS brand in favor of the new Azure Stack. But this isn't just a re-branding. Designed to run on the forthcoming Windows Server 2016, Azure Stack substantially advances the Cloud OS Azure Pack in that it aims to allow enterprises and hosting providers to build and manage cloud infrastructure that truly mirrors the functionality and experience of the Azure public cloud.

While Cloud OS, as an amalgamation of Microsoft datacenter software offerings, may not have lived up to its billing, Microsoft officials were confident at Ignite that the Azure Stack running in Windows Server 2016, including the new Nano Server configuration and containers of the server OS, will enable a common infrastructure and platform for on-premises datacenters and Azure. Microsoft released the second technical preview of Windows Server 2016 last month, but the Azure Stack is slated for the next test version later this year. Ryan O'Hara, a Microsoft program director, explained in an Ignite briefing that the Azure Stack will offer more features than the Azure Pack. Among other things, it'll offer all of the services of both Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS) and Platform as a Service (PaaS), and all of the Azure management tools. "We think about Azure Stack as the delivery of Azure innovations on-premises," O'Hara said.

The Azure Stack will have the same IaaS virtual machines, network interfaces, public IP addresses, Blob storage, SQL and role-based access control offered in Azure. Through the Azure Portal, partner services providers implementing their own cloud offerings using the Azure Stack will be able to invoke such Azure services as networking, compute and storage, as well as Azure software-based load balancers, software-defined network controllers and distributed firewall.

Mike Schutz, general manager of marketing for Microsoft cloud product lines, said Azure Stack has two targets: customer datacenters and partners who are, or aspire to become, cloud hosting providers. "If you think about the service provider community, we've got tens of thousands in our community and partners who also are managed services providers and this is a great way for them to offer a local cloud to their customers," Schutz explained. Much of what's in the Azure Stack won't translate into services you can offer until the latter part of next year at the very earliest, but you should at least start evaluating the previews as Microsoft releases them.

Time will tell whether Azure Stack delivers on the company's true vision of the hybrid cloud platform formerly known as Cloud OS.

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About the Author

Jeffrey Schwartz is editor of Redmond magazine and also covers cloud computing for Virtualization Review's Cloud Report. In addition, he writes the Channeling the Cloud column for Redmond Channel Partner. Follow him on Twitter @JeffreySchwartz.