What’s Happening?

In 2014 I wrote about Microsoft and Dell’s joint Cloud Platform System offering, Microsoft’s initial foray into an “Azure-Like” experience in the enterprise data center. While not a complete or totally transparent Azure experience, it was a definite stake in the ground around Microsoft’s intentions to provide enterprise Azure with hybrid on-premise and public cloud (Azure) interoperability.

I got it wrong about other partners – as far as I know, Dell is the only hardware partner to offer Microsoft CPS – but it looks like my idiot-proof guess that CPS was a stepping stone toward a true on premise Azure was correct, with Microsoft today announcing its technology preview of Azure Stack, the first iteration of a true enterprise Azure offering with hybrid on-prem and public cloud interoperability.

Azure Stack is in some ways a parallel offering to the existing Windows Server/Systems Center and Azure Pack offering, and I believe it represents Microsoft’s long-term vision for enterprise IT, although Microsoft will do nothing to compromise the millions of legacy environments who want to incremental enhance their Windows environment. But for those looking to embrace a more complete cloud experience, Azure Stack is just what the doctor ordered – an Azure environment that can run in the enterprise that has seamless access to the immense Azure public cloud environment.

On the partner front, this time Microsoft will be introducing this as a pure software that can run on one or more standard x86 servers, no special integration required, although I’m sure there will be many bundled offerings of Azure Stack and integration services from partners.

What Does Azure Stack Offer?

A little bit of something for most IT constituencies: 

  • Application developers. One of the major beneficiaries of this architecture will be the developer community, gaining the ability to develop applications and services that can be deployed either on-premises or in the Azure cloud with an API set that Microsoft claims is compatible with both .NET and open source technologies and are identical to the public Azure environment. If we think back several decades ago, it was the focus on developers that differentiated Microsoft from its larger and more mature competitor Novell and jumpstarted its success as an OS platform. Unless something changes dramatically, this pattern is likely to repeat itself in the cloud environment as Microsoft is now in a position to offer a cloud environment that is consistent with the on-premises environment. 
  • I&O management. The commonality of Azure Stack and Azure public cloud will allow I&O teams to implement more efficient hybrid cloud management architectures and processes. Azure Stack will go a long way toward reducing the operational and governance gap that plagues many enterprises as they grapple with legacy and public cloud operations.
  • Measured cloud migration. Having a common environment makes the whole process of enabling an enterprise application portfolio for the cloud fundamentally more rational, allowing a common environment for services that should go into the cloud as well as those that need to stay in the enterprise. The platform enables this by giving businesses the freedom to decide where applications and workloads reside without being constrained by technology.  

If you are a Windows/Azure competitor

I’ll repeat myself from the previous post on CPS except this time it looks like the real deal – this is a big-time wake-up call. Even if you have very well integrated toolkits to allow on premise development and easy sloshing of workloads onto and off of your cloud environment, there is ample data that shows that a large fraction of enterprises intending to use cloud also want workloads on premise if the economics are competitive for a variety of reasons ranging from sheer inertia to legitimate concerns about multi-tenancy, data governance, regulatory compliance and perceived risk. Azure Stack now puts this option squarely within the reach of a huge tranche of the world’s computing users. Not a bad deal, really.

VMware and its community get it, and are actively promoting its EVO architecture as well as partner offerings and its cloud integration, but have not been nearly as effective as they should have been. The OpenStack world gets it, but OpenStack is light-years behind Azure in proven scalability and functionality