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Dell Takes Wraps Off Its Azure Stack Offering

Exactly two years after Microsoft first unveiled Azure Stack, Dell EMC on Thursday announced the first generation of its solution based on the forthcoming private cloud platform.

Azure Stack is designed to let customers and service providers run iterations of Azure in their own datacenters. While Microsoft's vision for Azure Stack has changed since its debut at the 2015 Ignite conference, it is expected to be released in the latter half of this year.

Dell EMC's announcement this week indicates that Microsoft is on schedule. Later this year, to coincide with the official release of Azure Stack, Dell EMC plans to release a single-node server for developers, as well as a four-node converged system aimed at dev and test. The solution is called the Dell EMC Cloud for Microsoft Azure Stack.

Dell EMC is one of four datacenter infrastructure providers with whom Microsoft has inked engineering and co-development pacts to offer Azure Stack-certified systems. Besides Dell EMC, Microsoft is working with Cisco, Hewlett Packard Enterprise (HPE) and Lenovo, all of which have demonstrated prototypes of Azure Stack-based systems over the past few months.

Following an interview with Dell EMC officials, it's clear that the company is taking a different approach to Azure Stack than it has taken with its earlier Cloud Platform System (CPS) running Windows Azure Pack. Dell introduced the CPS in 2014 before its merger with EMC. Now that the two companies are combined, EMC's influence on the Azure Stack platform is apparent. Dell's server, network and storage infrastructure product groups have consolidated with EMC's headquarters in Hopkinton, Mass., since the completion of the merger last summer. The development of Dell's Azure Stack appliances are now based on EMC's approach to hybrid cloud hardware, said Kevin Gray, Dell EMC's director of product marketing for hybrid cloud platforms.

"Our first enterprise hybrid cloud was based on the VMware vRealize Suite and all their software-defined datacenter components and the virtualization," Gray said. "We build integrations to IaaS layer, things like backup and Encryption as a Service, and we're extending that approach and model to Azure Stack. We are leveraging the partners we've had with Microsoft and the expertise we both have with hybrid cloud."

In addition to its vRealize-based offering, Dell EMC offers its Pivotal Cloud Foundry native hybrid cloud platform, which Gray said focused on enterprises and partners building cloud-native analytics modules. "We are moving this model to Azure Stack," he said.

Dell EMC will offer complete systems integration services directly and through Microsoft's partners, as well as its own channel. The company will reveal more information on its channel distribution plans in the second half of the year, Gray said.

"We are still working through our approach for channel partners," Gray said. "In fact, we expect the channel to play a big role in the sale of these systems, given the strength of the Microsoft partner ecosystem."

Gray said Dell EMC isn't revealing specs at this time, other than the fact that the entry-level model is a single-node system that doesn't come with the entire infrastructure or tooling planned for deployment. It will carry a list price of $20,000. The four-node system will carry a list price of $300,000, but Gray declined to share anticipated street prices. The company also isn't offering details on hardware specs.

Dell EMC is hoping to differentiate its Azure Stack offering through its Backup as a Service, based on Dell EMC Networker and Data Domain storage. "We back up not just the data produced by the applications, we actually protect that underlying infrastructure of the azure environment," Gray said. "So, all of the bits that are created and the IaaS and PaaS layers are protected, as well as the underlying infrastructure, making sure we backup the full environment."

Dell EMC's Azure Stack Platform will also offer the company's CloudLink SecureVM encryption offering. This is available in the Azure catalog and enables the encryption of virtual machines such that they're portable and remain secure as they move between hosts. "That really ensures that workloads remain secure, wherever they are running in the datacenter, whether it's in public cloud or if it's the on-premises instance of Azure Stack," Gray said.

While Gray emphasized the four-node system will be targeted for development, as well, he indicated deployment-based systems will also arrive by launch time.

Thursday's announcement comes in advance of the Dell EMC World gathering, which will take place next week in Las Vegas and where officials are expected to emphasize hybrid cloud.

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.