The new wave of modernization in the infrastructure domain calls for simplicity and enablement of the most complex functionality in a seamless manner. In today’s V.U.C.A. (volatile, uncertain, complex, and ambiguous) world, there are unprecedented challenges in the infrastructure domain leading to non-systemized digital flexibility and capability of on-premise and cloud infrastructure due to different solutions and policies in place. This degrades the efficiency and effectiveness of IT and OT operations and management. The key to untangle these intricacies is to find a way to handle the complexities in parallel while fulfilling the business requirements.
Cloud solution providers such as Microsoft and Amazon are trying to bridge the gap by bringing their cloud layer on the certified apparatus in-conjunction with the leading OEMs of the world. One such attractive and validated approach of Microsoft Azure stack is worth the attention and money to pursue the hybrid cloud journey. With 22.7% of CAGR, it shows promising prospects and user adaptability. In this blog, we will explore the factors around hybrid cloud, and how Microsoft, with its stacked solution attempts can bring in the best of the both worlds.
The journey to a true hybrid cloud is not easy as it involves unprecedented complexity related to managing, integrating and, operating (IT & OT) of both on premise and cloud environments. Also, there are variations in hardware components, software (patches, versions and such others), network configurations, and a plethora of other parameters.
This journey is made simple by Microsoft Azure Stack HUB which is an extension of Azure bringing in industry standard hardware along with Azure functionalities on top of the on-premise infrastructure. Microsoft Azure Stack HUB is an evolved re-branded version of Azure Stack. Azure Stack comprises three different products in its portfolio, enabling a true hybrid cloud environment.
Azure Stack Portfolio and Benefits
Microsoft Azure Stack recently came up with their product line extension offering three core products:
- Azure Stack HUB: Formerly known as Azure Stack, it is a true Hybrid cloud solution. It brings in physical appliance to your on-premise infrastructure to enable a seamless cloud-like experience with Azure.
- Azure Stack Edge: An AI-enabled physical appliance used for remote working, branch office or edge locations. This enables the customer to leverage Azure capabilities and is offered as hardware-as-a-service. It helps extending Azure capabilities to the edge of the business.
- Azure Stack HCI: An HCI appliance with pre-configured specifications from certified partners bringing in an effective and efficient virtual environment. Azure Stack HCI has capabilities to natively connect to Azure and leverage a subset of the services.
Azure Stack HUB brings in the subset of Azure cloud services on premise enabling enterprises to focus on business, giving a single pane of view for management, consistent framework, processes, and tools across platforms along with a plethora of other benefits such as:
- Azure market place syndication
- Software-defined infrastructure
- DevOps and CloudOps, locked down infrastructure, reduced footprint and HA
USP of Azure Stack HUB?
The impact and market share of Azure function is immense, primarily due to the successful planning and implementation of the design principles of cloud environment. The experience and learning have been brought down from Azure cloud environment to the on-premise environment to best suit the customer requirement with stringent data compliance policies (data sovereignty and gravity).This is also suitable for customers seeking to test the waters of Azure cloud environment, but are limited by business requirement or enterprises looking for digitalization, modernization, or hybrid environment.
Azure Stack HUB enables the professionals to seamlessly write, deploy, test, and run any application/ configuration either on premise or on Azure Environment. It also allows professionals to migrate, transfer, or share workloads with the slightest effort possible. This engenders a powerful unified development and DevOps platform which is centered on APIs for interaction.
Azure Marketplace offers numerous IaaS and PaaS services. A few of Azure marketplace native solutions include Azure Service Fabric, Azure Function for infra as a code, key vault security to safeguard cryptographic keys and secrets which are used for cloud services and applications, Azure App services for web mobile and API applications’ development, and Azure Kubernetes Services for deployment, operation and management of container. These Azure marketplace solutions are inclusive of independent vendor’s solutions which are readily available. For instance, Jenkin and Grunt for DevOps. Similarly, apache spark, eclipse, node.js for application framework and tools along with several others specific to their technology space.
According to a leading research firm, security remains the topmost priority of an organization. Azure Stack HUB mitigates risks, disaster, and crisis by their pillars of security postures. These pillars are built on the assumption of breach where dedicated teams of Microsoft continuously try to find the gaps in security and re-mediate them. The security features and functionalities in Azure Stack HUB are tried, tested, enabled, and configured by default. The data in both rest and transit are encrypted with the highest degree of security postures and principles, where Bit locker is used for rest transit encryption.
A few of the indispensable use cases of Azure Stack HUB are widely applicable in the disconnected and remote sites in verticals such as shipping, manufacturing, and energy and utilities industry where Azure function with its native IoT capability can be leveraged in providing meaningful business cases and benefits.
Building Blocks of Azure Stack HUB
There are four basic building blocks of Azure Stack HUB such as ARM layer, RP layer, infrastructure control layer, and hardware layer.
ARM Layer connects with Rest API to interact with the underlying resources. This can be either through the Azure portal (web portal) or through CLI tools such as Azure CLI, PowerShell, and others. The request triggered above is then transferred to the broker which allocates the appropriate and responsible resource provider. This step takes place in the RP layer in the Azure portal.
Furthermore, the infrastructure control layer consists of different controllers such as compute controller, infrastructure role controller, network controller, and others. Each of these controllers are responsible for a specific task to be performed. For instance, compute controller is responsible for VM placements, VM configuration, managing scale unit lifecycle, and others in the Azure portal.
Lastly, there is a hardware layer which represents the physical hardware. The partnerships with OEM vendors such as Lenovo, Dell EMC, Hitachi, HPE, Fujitsu and Cisco provide an integrated system to optimize and run the applications and strengthening Microsoft’s position in the hybrid cloud ecosystem.
Further, the system’s performance and capabilities are endorsed by the pre-documented configuration and defined support in the Azure portal which it provides with.
Azure service fabric offers two financial constructs for its subscription:
- Consumption-based model: Pay-as-you-go model is only valid when Azure stack HUB is connected to Azure cloud services and gives a unified billing for both the platforms.
- Capacity-based model: In this model, the financials are based on the number core used for IaaS or PaaS services, when Azure is not connected to the integrated system.
Competition and Drawbacks
Besides the ample amount of benefits and functionality that makes Azure service fabric a quintessential choice in hybrid/private environment, there are certain drawbacks and limitations. To speak of the size of the hardware, Azure Stack HUB currently support 16 nodes per scale unit, i.e. it can be scaled up to 16 nodes for each scale unit. There is a geographical limitation for Azure Stack HUB Scale units to work cohesively. Extension of external storage for application workload and feasibility of heavy application workload (ERP and such others) which can be implemented is another hurdle that Azure stack HUB puts forth. There are certain Azure capabilities and functionalities that are yet to be present in Azure Stack HUB products.
Vendor lock-in is a challenge when it comes to Azure Stack HUB, from being vendor locked-in from Azure perspective or looking deeper from the OEM hardware lock-in for its integrated system. Google Anthos, a competitor for such a solution mitigates one of the major challenges in today’s IT infrastructure world, i.e. vendor lock-in. It enables the hybrid cloud capability in the existing infrastructure juxtaposed to what Azure Stack HUB and Amazon Outpost offers. It can’t converge with the existing infrastructure and needs a whole new setup for workloads to run on it. Hence, there are both pros and cons associated with the approach everywhere. According to a leading analyst firm, over 90% of organizations look forward to adopting hybrid cloud capabilities by 2020. It would be interesting to see how Azure stack works on its set of use cases further and sees its competition in the market. For now, Azure customers can rejoice on some of their hybrid plans through Azure stack.