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Azure Stack Marks Turning Point for Microsoft's Cloud OS

Microsoft unveiled the new "Azure Stack" offering at its Ignite conference this week, signaling a change of direction from its old "Cloud OS" vision.

Microsoft first unveiled its Cloud OS -- which is actually a term used by a number of other providers, including Cisco and HP -- in 2012, when it released Windows Server 2012 and System Center 2012. The release of Azure Pack in 2013 also fell under that Cloud OS umbrella. While Cloud OS provided the building blocks to build Azure-like clouds in private datacenters and third-party hosing providers, it hasn't been seamless. The effort has amounted to an amalgamation of Microsoft's datacenter software offerings that didn't quite live up to its billing.

At Ignite, Microsoft took the first steps toward phasing out its Cloud OS brand in favor of the new Azure Stack, which it says will enable a common infrastructure for on-premises datacenters and Azure. Microsoft Corporate Vice President Brad Anderson introduced Azure Stack during the opening Ignite keynote on Monday.

"This is literally us giving you all of Azure for you to run in your datacenters," Anderson said. "What this brings you is you get that great IaaS and PaaS environment in your datacenters. You have incredible capability like a unified application model that gives you a one-click deployment experience for even the most complex, multi-tier applications and then you get that cloud-inspired infrastructure. We're giving you the same software controller that we built for our network, the name is the same, network controller. We're giving you our load balancing. We're giving you all the storage innovation."

Along with the new Microsoft Operations Management Service -- which was also announced at Ignite and enables management of multiple servers, clouds and virtual machines -- Azure Stack substantially advances the capabilities of Azure Pack in that it aims to allow enterprises and hosting providers to build and manage cloud infrastructures that truly mirror the functionality and experience of the Azure public cloud.

Ryan O'Hara, a Microsoft program director, explained in an Ignite briefing on Tuesday that Azure Stack will offer more features than the Azure Pack. Among other things, it will offer all of the services of both IaaS and PaaS and all of the Azure management tools. "We think about Azure Stack as the delivery of Azure innovations on premises," O'Hara said.

Jeff Woolsey, a Microsoft senior technical product manager, demonstrated the Azure Stack in Monday's Ignite keynote. "You see the same IaaS virtual machines, the same network interfaces, the same public IP addresses, the same BLOB storage, the same SQL [and] the same role-based access control both in Azure and in Azure Stack," he said. Through the Azure Portal, Woolsey showed how to associate Azure services -- such as networking and compute and storage, as well as Azure's software-based load balancers, software-defined network controllers and the distributed firewall -- into the Azure Stack.

"We've packaged those up and put those in the Azure Stack for you so you're getting those same software-defined networking capabilities," he said.

Azure Stack will be released as a preview sometime this summer, and will become generally available next year with Windows Server 2016 and System Center 2016, Microsoft officials said at Ignite. Azure Stack will be a key component of Windows Server 2016 but it will be a separate offering. A second technical preview of Windows Server 2016 was released on Monday.

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.

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