Today, facilitating work from home or remote work has become the priority of organizations worldwide. Owing to pandemic-driven disruptions, the technology industry, like all major industry verticals, is metamorphosizing into a quintessential platform for an astute digital transformation strategy in the field of infrastructure services. With all the advancements in this domain, simple and seamless infrastructure is the dire need of the hour. The unprecedented events transpiring globally and the increased volatility and complexities of various industries have posed scathing challenges to the infrastructure domain and disrupted IT and OT operations and management.
Cloud has become mainstream, speeding up digital innovations and transformations. Also, organizations across verticals are struggling to consolidate tool sets and communication platforms. Business leaders need to manage the security and privacy, as well as existing investments in data centers, while achieving the agility and elasticity of the cloud. This is encouraging organizations to adopt private/public cloud along with an on-prem. approach. The remedy for this lies in simplifying operations, while addressing the business requisites of speed and security, and bringing the cloud closer to consumers.
Azure Stack: a comprehensive solution for all requirements associated with hybrid cloud implementations
Customers trust Microsoft Azure Stack as a part of their hybrid strategy as it evolves into a computing super power, available at the edge, servicing the most remote areas of the world.
Various cloud platforms like Microsoft and Amazon are addressing this challenge by layering the cloud on top of the hardware, in collaboration with leading OEMs world wide. This provides a firm foundation for the Azure Stack offering from Microsoft, and a comprehensive approach for customers to invest in and pursue their hybrid cloud journey. With a CAGR of 22.7% for 2020-24, the Azure Stack offering portrays promising indications of user adaptability. This blog adresses the elements around hybrid cloud and the endeavors of Microsoft to provide the best of both worlds: on-premises, and cloud- to customers.
The hybrid cloud journey is complex since it necessitates unparalleled complex operations pertaining to the: management, integration, and operation of both on-premises and cloud environments. Moreover, there is an incongruity in hardware components, software (versions and patches), network configuration, and a gamut of other parameters.
The transition to hybrid cloud is made easier by the Microsoft Azure Stack HUB offering, which supplements Azure, and presents an industry-standard hardware on top of Azure functionalities on the on-premises infrastructure. It is an evolved version of the Azure Stack which has been rebranded, to include three different products under the portfolio, thereby accrediting a true hybrid cloud environment.
Microsoft recently announced an extension of their Azure Stack product line with the introduction of three core products:
- Azure Stack HUB: A hybrid cloud solution that deploys physical appliances on to the on-premise environment and facilitates a seamless cloud experience with Azure.
- Azure Stack Edge: An AI-powered physical appliance that is utilized by customers to operate remotely, or from branch offices and edge locations. The offering empowers them to leverage Azure capabilities and extend them to the edge of the business. It is offered as hardware-as-a-service.
- Azure Stack HCI: A hyper-converged infrastructure (HCI) device with pre-configured parameters from certified partners felicitating an effective, trusted, and efficient virtual environment for the enterprise. It possesses capabilities to connect to Azure natively and leverage a segment of Azure Stack HCI solutions.
Azure Stack HUB allows customers to forsake disorganized digital flexibility and convolutions. It helps them leverage a segment of Azure cloud services on-premises, thereby facilitating them to concentrate on their business. Benefits include a single pane view for management, a compatible framework and processes, and tools across platforms.
It includes a gamut of other advantages like:
- Azure marketplace syndication
- Software-defined infrastructure, including networking
- DevOps and CloudOps, locked-down infrastructure, reduced footprint, and HA
Azure has a considerable market share and a wide customer impact owing to the prudent planning and implementation of the cloud environment design. There is a replication of experiences and learnings from the Azure cloud environment to the on-premises scenario, which complements the requirements of the customers along with very stringent data compliance policies. The scenario is also apt for customers who wish to assess the Azure cloud environment, but are constrained by the requirements of their business. This also benefits the customers looking for rapid digitalization, modernization, and a hybrid environment.
Azure Stack helps customers write, deploy, test, and run applications seamlessly, either on-premises or on the Azure environment. It allows customers to: migrate, transfer, and share workloads effortlessly. This, in turn, incites a dynamic unified development and DevOps platform utilizes APIs for interaction.
There is a multitude of IaaS and PaaS services offered by the Azure marketplace. Some of the solutions include: Azure Service Fabric, Azure Function for infra-as-a-code, key vault security to secure cryptographic keys and secrets 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 containers. These marketplace solutions include solutions from independent software vendors (ISVs), such as Jenkin and Grunt for DevOps. Furthermore, Apache spark, eclipse, node.js for application framework and tools along with a plethora of others; discrete to their technology domain.
According to a leading research organization, the most dominant priority of an organization is security. The Azure Stack addresses this priority with a strong focus on mitigating risks, disasters, and crises through a well-defined security framework. This framework is based on the presupposition of a breach event, where there is continuous detection and remediation of gaps in security, supervised by the dedicated teams of Microsoft. The security facets and functionalities in Azure Stack are tried, tested, validated, and configured - by default. The data is encrypted in both rest and transit states, with an exceptional degree of security, where Bit locker is leveraged for rest transit encryption.
Some fundamental use cases of Azure Stack are widely applicable in remote locations in verticals such as: energy and utilities, shipping, and manufacturing. In these use cases, Azure, with its native IoT capability, can be leveraged to provide significant business cases and merits.
There are four rudimentary building blocks of Azure Stack HUB – ARM layer, RP layer, infrastructure control layer, and hardware layer.
The ARM Layer couples with Rest API to interact with the underlying resources, which can be achieved through either the Azure web portal or through CLI tools such as Azure CLI, PowerShell, and others. The activated request is then passed on to the broker where apportioning of appropriate and responsible resource providers is done in the RP layer in the Azure portal.
Moreover, the infrastructure control layer comprises of various controllers such as: compute controller, infrastructure role controller, network controller, and others, where each of these oversees specific tasks. For example, compute controller accounts for VM placements, VM configuration, managing scale unit lifecycle, and others in the Azure portal.
The final layer is the hardware layer, which constitutes the physical hardware. Microsoft augments its position in the hybrid cloud ecosystem by collaborating with OEMs such as: Lenovo, Dell EMC, Hitachi, HPE, Fujitsu, and Cisco, which provide an integrated system to optimize and run the applications.
Also, the performance and competencies of the system are ratified by the pre-documented configuration and defined support in the Azure portal.
Financial model to consume Azure Stack:
Azure service framework suggests two financial models for its subscription which includes:
- Consumption-based model: This is also known as the pay-as-you-go model and is only valid in the scenario where Azure stack HUB is connected to Azure cloud services and gives a unified billing for both platforms.
- Capacity-based model: In this model, the financials are based on the number of cores used for IaaS or PaaS services to get delivered, and integrated systems are disconnected from Azure.
Challenges in hybrid cloud adoption
In contrast to the copious number of benefits and functionalities which make the Azure service framework a classic choice in a hybrid or private environment, there are certain impediments such as: geographic limitations, size of the hardware, add-ons in external storage, and others. Azure Stack HUB supports 16 nodes/per scale unit in the current scenario, it can be scaled up to 16 nodes for each scale unit. Additionally, there is a geographical impediment that prevents Azure Stack HUB scale units to operate coherently. Another pivotal challenge is the limitation of external storage for application workloads and the viability of heavy application workloads like ERP, which can be implemented. There are some Azure capabilities and functions which are not present in the Azure Stack offering along with requisites for a fresh setup of workloads.
Hence, the merits and impediments are corresponding with the approach everywhere. According to a leading analyst firm, ~90% of organizations foresee the adoption of the hybrid cloud by 2022. It would be wonderful to see how Azure Stack performs with its gamut of use cases and competes in the market. For now, customers have enough reasons to trust their decision to adopt Azure Stack as a part of their hybrid strategy and as hybrid cloud evolves from being a product - to integrating on-premises to public cloud - to evolving into a computing super power available at the edge, including the most remote areas of the world.
- Azure Stack Hub | Microsoft Azure
- Azure Stack documentation | Microsoft Docs