Azure Stack Shipments Begin, While Azure Portal Gets a Boost

The first Azure Stack appliances are now shipping from OEMs like Dell EMC, Hewlett Packard Enterprise and Lenovo, Microsoft announced at its Ignite conference on Monday.

First unveiled at the 2015 Ignite event, Azure Stack is the cornerstone of Microsoft's hybrid cloud strategy, which includes a unified portal management experience and the ability to build and provision instances and applications with the use of common APIs.

"Azure Stack also enables you to begin modernizing your on-premises applications even before you move into the public cloud," said Scott Guthrie, executive vice president of Cloud and Infrastructure at Microsoft, during a keynote session at Ignite on Monday.

"The command and control [are] identical," said Sid Nag, Gartner's research director for cloud services, in an interview following Guthrie's session. "If I have a craft, I don't have to learn new skills. I can transition very smoothly without a learning curve."

Preorders for Azure Stack began in July at the Microsoft Inspire partner conference. As with any major new piece of infrastructure, the pace and number of Azure Stack deployments remain to be seen -- despite significant interest in the solution. "Clients have been looking for an onramp to the public cloud, but they are not ready to commit," Nag said.

New Azure Portal Features
Microsoft maintains that enterprises should embrace the hybrid path it has championed for some time, but the company is also apparently giving them a nudge by bringing the Azure Portal to their world, whether or not they use the public cloud. Adding these new capabilities brings the portal even to those not using Azure Stack.

During an Ignite session, Corey Sanders, Microsoft's director of Azure compute, demonstrated the new features coming to the Azure Portal:

PowerShell Built into Azure Portal: PowerShell is now built into the Azure Portal, aimed at simplifying the creation of virtual machines (VMs). "It's browser-based and can run on any OS or even from an iPhone," Sanders said. "If you are familiar with PowerShell, it used to take many, many, commands to get this going. Now it takes just one parameter," he said. "With that, I put in my user name and password and it creates a virtual machine, so you don't have to worry about the other configurations unless you want to."

Sanders said IT pros can use classic PowerShell WhatIf queries to validate what a given command will do.

Change Tracking: When running a VM, every change on the VM -- including every file, event and registry change -- is tracked. The portal can scan a single machine or an entire environment, letting IT pros discover all changes and investigate anything that requires attention.

Log Analytics: Administrators can now call on a set of prebuilt operations and statistics to discover the number of threats. It looks beyond the built-in anti-malware, letting administrators go into the analytics designer to create queries that Sanders said are simple to write. "They are very SQL-like and allow me to do very custom things," he said.

For example, it can query the processor time of all the VMs in a specific subscription over the last seven days. It can group them by computer and display a time chart that identifies spikes in all the CPUs timed across those seven days.

Update Management: Administrators looking to see what updates or patches have been installed, or who are awaiting installation, can use this new feature in the Azure Portal. It displays details of what the updates include and allows administrators to choose which ones to act on. Sanders emphasized this works across an entire Azure or on-premises infrastructure of Windows and Linux machines.

Disaster Recovery: Noting that planning how to back up infrastructure and ensure a workable recovery plan is complex, Sanders said the site recovery capability in the Azure Portal lets administrators pick a target region, and it will provide a picture of how a failover scenario will actually appear. "The key point here is this isn't just a single machine. You can do this across a set of machines, build a recovery plan across many machines, do the middleware and actually run scripts according to that plan," he said.

Microsoft said these features will appear in preview mode starting Monday, though it hasn't disclosed a final release date.

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.