Channeling the Cloud

Microsoft's Azure Stack Is Built. Will They Come?

Will Azure Stack appliances become pervasive in datacenters and develop a considerable global footprint in existing hosting facilities?

After years of priming the pump for Azure Stack, the first systems that extend Microsoft's public cloud to customer datacenters and services providers are now shipping from Cisco, Dell EMC, Hewlett Packard Enterprise (HPE) and Lenovo. (Huawei is set to release its offering next quarter.)

Now that Microsoft and its hardware partners have built it, will they come?

In an ideal world for Microsoft and its partners, thousands of hosting providers and customers alike will deploy Azure Stack appliances, literally extending the footprint of Azure exponentially.

Yet, despite all the hype leading up to this fall's launch, what remains to be seen is whether Azure Stack appliances become pervasive in datacenters and develop a considerable global footprint in existing hosting facilities.

I've heard varying points of view on that matter and only time will tell how that plays out. Among several variables, Azure Stack isn't the only hybrid cloud solution available to customers and services providers. Just to name a few, there are many other options including OpenStack for those that want more control over their configurations, the new offering from VMware that brings vSphere as a service to the Amazon Web Services cloud, and a number of partnerships that Google, IBM, Oracle and SAP have forged with various providers.

Microsoft argues, and many agree, that the Azure Stack combination offers the most seamless option. Competitors argue the solution locks customers into Azure, a notion Microsoft counters isn't true in the age of containers and open Platform-as-a-Service (PaaS)-based platforms such as Cloud Foundry and OpenShift.

Some things you need to know if you're going to deploy Azure Stack as a service or deploy it in a customer's datacenter:
  • While it's true Azure Stack runs Azure via the Azure portal and through the Azure Resource Manager, not every service in the Azure Marketplace is available. Microsoft is rolling out more services monthly, such as Cloud Foundry, Blockchain, a Windows Azure Pack connector and geo-replication. Microsoft has a roadmap and separate Azure Stack Marketplace.

  • Microsoft controls the hardware engineering specs of systems its OEM partners are permitted to deliver. Entry-level systems for production must range from four to 12 nodes, though that will extend to 16 nodes next quarter. Over time other configurations are expected.

  • The Azure Stack Developer Kit (ASDK) is available free of charge for organizations that want to create proofs of concept for non-production workloads running on their own hardware. Given the entry-level cost of the first appliances -- $300,000 for a four-node system and double that for 12 nodes -- the ASDK is a wise first step.

Rand Morimoto, president and CEO of Convergent Computing, who has worked with several customers and hosting providers, warned against expecting Azure Stack to become a mass-market solution anytime soon.

"The case studies are focused on specific scenarios. This isn't something built to replace a basic server or hypervisor, and this is not a mass enterprise solution," Morimoto says. "But for those enterprises that have the specific use-case scenario, the interest is there."

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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.