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Microsoft Adds Cisco To List of Azure Stack System Partners

Microsoft this week announced the addition of datacenter and networking giant Cisco to its list of approved hardware partners for the upcoming Azure Stack solution.

Cisco will offer Azure Stack in its UCS converged server and network appliance, which Microsoft said both companies will engineer.

Microsoft's initial list of Azure Stack OEMs included just Dell, HPE and Lenovo. These partners have been authorized by Microsoft to offer Azure Stack on their respective systems, which are also being co-engineered with Microsoft.

Conspicuously absent from that roster was Cisco, which already had various partnerships with Microsoft integrating both companies' wares, including one inked in 2014 to integrate Cisco Nexus switches and UCS Manager with Microsoft System Center integration modules, and Cisco PowerTools with Windows Server 2012 R2, System Center 2012 R2, PowerShell and Microsoft Azure. The two had also announced plans to integrate Microsoft's products with Cisco ACI and Cisco Intercloud.

Cisco's cloud strategy is going through a transition. The company is now emphasizing its hybrid cloud portfolio on UCS, as it sets to shut down its Intercloud network of interconnected public clouds at the end of March. Cisco had launched Intercloud, an ambitious multi-cloud project, in 2014. Based on OpenStack, the company at the time said its $1 billion effort would become the largest public network of interconnected clouds. Azure Stack, which brings the same software and engineering design into a converged system as Microsoft runs in its public cloud, appears to fit into Cisco's hybrid cloud portfolio.

Microsoft first revealed plans to offer Azure Stack in May 2015 and had targeted the end of last year to release the software. But after the first technical preview, the company decided to limit partnerships with the three OEMs to provide systems co-engineered between Microsoft and the respective hardware suppliers. While the decision angered a number of partners and service providers who were already testing the software on their own hardware, Microsoft defended the move, saying it wanted to ensure that the first Azure Stack implementations provided a consistent experience with the company's public cloud.

Nevertheless, Microsoft officials have indicated the possibility of offering Azure Stack through other partners over time. Besides Dell, HPE and Lenovo, Cisco is among the largest providers of datacenter infrastructure and the leading supplier of networking hardware and software. Among the four developing Azure Stack-based systems, Cisco is newer to the server business. The company launched UCS, which consists of virtualized servers, switches and management software, in 2009.

It appears the company is targeting its offering, called the Cisco Integrated System for Microsoft Azure Stack, at service and hosting providers, though large enterprises have expressed interest in deploying the private instantiations of the Azure cloud.

"The Cisco Integrated System for Microsoft Azure Stack reinforces Cisco's complete approach to cloud, offering businesses the freedom to choose the best environment and consumption model for their traditional and cloud-native applications," wrote Liz Centoni, senior vice president and general manager of Cisco's Computing Systems product group, in a blog post announcing Cisco's Azure Stack offering.

Centoni noted that the Cisco Integrated System for Microsoft Azure Stack, slated for release in the third quarter of this year, will offer both IaaS or PaaS services integrated in UCS with high-performance networking switches and the Cisco Virtual Card Interface optimized for Azure Stack.

Cisco's Azure Stack offering will also provide a common management interface for managing compute, an Azure Stack-optimized adapter, and networking with templates to support policies for multi-tenant environments. The Azure Stack offering on UCS will also include Cisco One Enterprise Cloud Suite, which automates deployment and management applications, and is offered with more than 20 hybrid cloud platforms.

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.