Microsoft Partners Taking Pre-Orders on Azure Stack

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Microsoft's launch hardware partners will begin taking orders Monday for Azure Stack, a parallel version of the software that powers the Microsoft Azure public cloud and that customers will run in their own datacenters for hybrid cloud scenarios.

For support, Microsoft requires that customers buy Azure Stack as part of a certified integrated system from launch partners. The initial partners taking orders on Monday are Dell EMC, HPE and Lenovo. Cisco and Huawei plan to start taking orders later in the year.

Enabling the Microsoft Inspire conference announcement Monday about pre-orders was delivery of pre-production Azure Stack software to launch partners. "We have delivered Azure Stack software to our hardware partners, enabling us to begin the certification process for their integrated systems, with the first systems to begin shipping in September," said Mike Neil, corporate vice president for Azure Infrastructure and Management at Microsoft, in a blog post Monday.

It's the start of a process that will include more software delivery and certification steps, explained Paul Galjan, senior director of product management for Dell EMC Hybrid Cloud Platforms. "As soon as the production-ready multi-node code is available from Microsoft, which we anticipate in late August, we will validate and start shipping systems in the September timeframe for installation in late September or early October," Galjan said.

Available immediately for customers and systems integrators who want to kick the tires, as well as partners and ISVs who want to prepare solutions in advance, is an SDK. The Azure Stack Development Kit (ASDK) was posted for Web download on Monday. It is a free trial for use on a single server.

Microsoft named several ISVs that are already working on getting applications ready for Azure Stack: Bitnami, Docker, Kemp Technologies, Pivotal Cloud Foundry, Red Hat Enterprise Linux and SUSE Linux.

Pricing for the integrated hardware will cover a fairly broad range. Dell EMC, for example, will offer configurations of four-, eight- or 12-node units. As a very rough indication of scale, capacity would range from about 100 virtual machines for the smallest configuration to about 1,000 virtual machines at the top end, Galjan said.

Systems will start in price from $100,000 to $300,000, according to Galjan, based on the Microsoft D Series virtual machine configurations, which are based on one virtual core, 3.5 gigabits and 50GB of SSD storage. Dell also launched a developer edition appliance with a single core consisting of a subset of the VM types available in Azure. The developer editions, launched at Dell EMC World in early May, are available now at a list price of $20,000.

"It gives you the capability to run the Azure Stack services on a single-node, in a single rack unit, and allow developers to start kicking the tires, as well as infrastructure administrators to figure out how Azure Stack fits in their environments and how it fits with Azure Active Directory, how it works in ADFS scenarios and things like that, that customers are trying to figure out what they can do with it without having to invest in a multi-node system," he said.

On the software side, Microsoft is going with a consumption-based pricing model, which is unusual for on-premises software. The company is making details available this week at Inspire, but essentially Microsoft plans for customers to accrue Azure usage on-premises to Azure subscriptions based mostly on virtual CPU per hour or per month, with a nominal fee for storage and additional pricing for usage of individual Azure services. Given that customers are managing and operating the cloud, rather than Microsoft, the rate card will be lower than it is for regular Azure, according to Microsoft executives.

Neil's blog offered a cogent case of the intention behind Azure Stack:

"Azure Stack is an extension of Azure, thereby enabling a truly consistent hybrid cloud platform. Consistency removes hybrid cloud complexity, which helps you maximize your investments across cloud and on-premises environments. Consistency enables you to build and deploy applications using the exact same approach -- same APIs, same DevOps tools, same portal -- leading to increased developer productivity. Consistency enables you to develop cloud applications faster by building on Azure Marketplace application components. Consistency enables you to confidently invest in people and processes knowing that those are fully transferable. The ability to run consistent Azure services on-premises gets you full flexibility to decide where applications and workloads should reside. An integrated systems-based delivery model ensures that you can focus on what matters to your business (i.e., your applications), while also enabling us to deliver Azure innovation to you faster."

Microsoft is pitching Azure Stack for three main use cases. One is edge and disconnected solutions. Judson Althoff, executive vice president of the Microsoft Worldwide Commercial Business organization, in a blog post offered several "edge of the cloud" scenarios like "miles underground in a mine shaft, away at sea on a ship or on a factory floor dependent on continuous real-time operation." A second use case is to help cloud applications meet varied regulations. Said Neil, "Many customers are looking to deploy different instances of the same application -- for example, a global audit or financial reporting app -- to Azure or Azure Stack, based on business and technical requirements." Finally, organizations looking to use the cloud application model on-premises are another expected early adopter category.

Galjan said Dell EMC is seeing great interest across medium to large enterprise customers, but especially with service providers and internationally. "Primarily right now in the early days, it's the service providers. Service providers can monetize Azure Stack and drive advantage by being first to market with an Azure Stack offering," Galjan said. "There also seems to be a lot of demand in areas where public cloud has been challenging, either because of data residency stipulations or simple underserving."

Jeffrey Schwartz contributed to this story.

About the Author

Scott Bekker is editor in chief of Redmond Channel Partner magazine.