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Channeling the Cloud

Azure Stack Was Microsoft's Summer Surprise

Microsoft's announcement of a more restrictive deployment model for Azure Stack, in addition to its delayed release, has left lots of partners scrambling.

If you attended this summer's Microsoft Worldwide Partner Conference (WPC) in Toronto expecting to hear the company's go-to-market plan for Azure Stack, you were in for a surprise.

While Microsoft hadn't made any promises, the expectation was the company planned to release it by year-end or early 2017 and it would take center stage at the WPC.

As it turned out, Azure Stack was barely mentioned during the WPC keynotes. Instead, Microsoft announced in a blog post that Azure Stack will arrive in mid-2017.

Partners were even more surprised to learn that instead of being able to purchase and deploy the software on their own hardware as they've done for years with Windows Azure Pack (WAP), they'll have to acquire Azure Stack on converged hardware delivered initially by Dell, Hewlett Packard Enterprise and Lenovo. While Microsoft potentially will sign on other hardware partners, early users of Azure Stack will have to acquire it pre-integrated on hardware. Microsoft said its engineering teams are working with those hardware partners to ensure the software is configured properly and consistently.

The news led to considerable backlash by some testers commenting on some of Microsoft's own blogs.

When Microsoft released Azure Stack TP1 earlier this year, I spoke with a number of partners who were able to download the software on their own hardware, presuming they had a beefy dual-socket server with 16 physical cores, 128GB of RAM and at least 1TB of storage running on four disk drives. I followed up with several of those partners after Microsoft announced the new plans to require pre-engineered systems and all were surprised by the move, especially since Microsoft allowed them to put WAP on their own hardware.

Mark Jewett, senior director of Product Marketing in the Microsoft Cloud Platform division, said Microsoft never officially promised it had planned to offer Azure Stack the same way and pointed out that WAP and Azure Stack are different. WAP, which provides the Azure portal interface on top of Windows Server 2012 R2 and System Center, creates "Azure-like" environments. Whereas Azure Stack intends to create, at a much smaller scale, the same Azure public cloud environment that Microsoft operates.

Reading between the lines, it was apparent Microsoft made the decision upon determining that early testers didn't properly deploy the Azure Stack TP1. Microsoft wants the first Azure Stack implementations to be consistent with the public Azure cloud and doing so with co-engineered implementations is the best way to ensure that, Jewett said.

That doesn't mean Microsoft won't offer Azure Stack with broader options in the future. "This is where we start," Jewett said. "The goal is to deliver to the level of flexibility that the customers ultimately want and the partner ecosystems benefit from."

If early rollouts result in poor experiences, Microsoft could have a hard time overcoming that, warned Terri McClure, a senior analyst at Enterprise Strategy Group. "Over time, I would expect they will ease up."

More Columns by Jeffrey Schwartz:

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.