Microsoft Readies First Preview of Azure Stack

The first technical preview of Microsoft's new Azure Stack solutions will be released on Friday, according to a Microsoft announcement.

Azure Stack is the fabric for Microsoft's software-defined networking, compute and storage technologies that's used for its Azure datacenters, but it's being made available for use across an organization's datacenter infrastructure. While Azure Stack is at the testing stage right now, its product release is associated with Microsoft's 2016-branded wave of products. Microsoft explained that point during its Ignite event back in May.

Consequently, Azure Stack likely will see product release sometime this year, alongside Microsoft's 2016 server products (see RCP's 2016 Microsoft Product Roadmap for the approximate timeline).

Microsoft is planning to provide more details about Azure Stack on Wednesday, Feb. 3 at 9:00 a.m. Pacific Time in a webinar. This event will feature discussions by Mark Russinovich, Microsoft's Azure Chief Technology Officer, and Jeffrey Snover, Microsoft's Enterprise Cloud Technical Fellow.

Hybrid Network Support
Microsoft has been promoting Azure Stack as something that will make things easier for organizations running "hybrid" networks, allowing them to more easily combine local datacenter infrastructures with Azure services. Azure Stack supports Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS) and Platform as a Service (PaaS) types of services. It's all made easier because of the common service fabric that Azure Stack provides.

Microsoft claims that the same tenant, scripting and developer experiences available with Azure are accessible on customer infrastructure using Azure Stack. The same Azure portal is used to manage resources, and the same PowerShell scripts can be used both locally and for Microsoft's cloud. The Visual Studio development environment works across Azure and Azure Stack. Organizations can use Azure Resource Manager templates across both, which are JSON-based. In addition, Microsoft claims that Azure Stack has an extensible model that will permit its partners to build add-on solutions. Developers get common APIs.

Organizations may be sticking with their datacenters, but Azure Stack will provide a bridge to access public cloud services, too, according to Al Hilwa, program director for software development research at consulting firm IDC.

"The key distinguishing characteristic is that this is semantically Azure," Hilwa explained in an e-mailed comment. "From a management API and app model perspective it is a proper subset of the broad services available in Azure. Prior offerings aimed at this space by Microsoft and others have not typically provided enough congruence between the on-premise world and the public cloud services it maps to. Azure Stack appears to move the bar significantly in this area because for the first time Microsoft is providing an identical application model for both scenarios."

It's Not Windows Azure Pack
Microsoft has a Windows Azure Pack for Windows Server 2012, but it's not the same thing as Azure Stack. Microsoft explained the difference in this Redmond article by saying that "Windows Azure Pack is not the full stack implementation of the Azure innovations." Back in May, Microsoft had promised that Azure Pack wasn't going away, but instead would get updated separately from Azure Stack.

Azure Pack is also more heavily dependent on the use of System Center for management tasks, according to Microsoft Technical Evangelist and MVP Darryl van der Peijl.

"In contrast to Windows Azure Pack, where we needed System Center to perform tasks on the underlying fabric, Azure Stack does this by directly communicating with the resource providers," van der Peijl explained in a blog post. "Microsoft Azure Stack will manage all the software defined components and be used to provision services on the fabric."

Azure Stack, while offering access to software defined components, actually has hardware requirements for customer-premises environments. A dual-socket server with a minimum 12 physical cores is needed for the task, according to Snover, in this Microsoft blog post. Snover's video in that blog post shows the common tools that will work across both Azure and Azure Stack environments.

While the underlying hardware will be different for the organizations that use Azure Stack, its software-defined components will permit organizations to "build a hybrid cloud with a very high degree of consistency between Azure and Azure Stack," according to van der Peijl.

Rob Helm, vice president of independent consultancy Directions on Microsoft, suggested Q4 for a partly production-ready Azure Stack.

About the Author

Kurt Mackie is senior news producer for 1105 Media's Converge360 group.


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