Microsoft Approves Azure Stack for Intel 'Purley' Processors

Microsoft has opened the door for enterprises and service providers to run Azure Stack at much greater scale.

The company has certified Azure Stack to run on systems powered by Intel's next-generation Xeon Scalable Processors, code-named "Purley," enabling greater expansion capability than the current Intel Xeon E5 v4 family (code-named "Broadwell").

The first crop of Azure Stack appliances, which includes those used by customers enrolled in technical previews over the past year, is based on the older Broadwell platform. Some customers may prefer this for various reasons, notably cost; gear for the latest processors costs more. Organizations may be fine with older processors, especially for conducting pilots. But for those looking to deploy Azure Stack, the newer generation might be the way to go.

Azure Stack appliances equipped with the new Purley processors offer improved IO, support up to 48 cores per CPU (up from 28) and provide 50 percent better memory bandwidth (up to 1.5TB), according to a blog post last week by Vijay Tewari, Microsoft's principle group program manager for Azure Stack.

Intel and Microsoft have worked to tune Azure Stack for the new CPUs for over six months, according to Lisa Davis, Intel's vice president of datacenter, enterprise and government, and general manager of IT. In addition to the improved memory bandwidth and increased number of cores, the new processors will offer more than 16 percent greater performance and 14 percent higher virtual machine capacity compared to the current processors, Davis said in a blog post.

The validation of the new CPUs came three weeks after Microsoft announced the official availability of Azure Stack from Dell EMC, Hewlett Packard Enterprise (HPE) and Lenovo, enabling customers and service providers to replicate the Azure cloud in their respective datacenters or hosting facilities. Cisco, Huawei and Wortmann/Terra are also readying Azure Stack appliances for imminent release. 

"For customers who want early-as-possible adoption, Broadwell is a good fit because that's what's going to be off the truck first," said Aaron Spurlock, senior product manager at HPE, during a meeting at September's Microsoft Ignite conference. "For customers who want the longest possible lifecycle on a single platform, [Purley] might be a better fit. But in terms of the overall user experience, it's going to be greater [on the new CPUs] 90 percent the time."

Paul Galjan, Dell EMC's senior director of product management for hybrid cloud solutions, said any organization that wants the flexibility to scale in the future will find the newer processors based on the company's new PowerEdge 14 hyperconverged server architecture a better long-term bet. Systems based on the PowerEdge 14 will offer a 153 percent improvement in capacity, Galjan said in a recent interview.

"It is purely remarkable the amount of density we have been able to achieve with the 14g offering," Galjan said. One of the key limitations of systems based on the Broadwell platform is that they' lack the ability to expand nodes on a cluster, a capability Microsoft will address in 2018. But it'll require the new Intel CPUs. Galjan said that for that reason, most customers have held off on ordering systems based on Azure Stack until it supports the new processors from Intel.

"That's one of the reasons we are being so aggressive about it," he said. "Azure Stack is a future-looking cloud platform and customers are looking for a future-looking hyperconverged platform." Galjan compared in a blog post the differences between Azure Stack running on PowerEdge 13 and the new PowerEdge 14 systems.

Lenovo last week also officially announced support for the new Xeon Scalable Processor with its ThinkAgile SX for Azure Stack appliance and is the first to support the Intel Select program early next year, which includes additional testing designed to ensure verified, workload-optimized and -tuned systems.

Select Solutions, a program announced by Intel earlier this year, is a system evaluation and testing process designed to simplify system configuration selection for customers, according to Intel's Davis. It targets high-performance applications that use Azure Stack with an all-flash storage architecture.

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.