Microsoft’s cloud strategy has long focused on the kind of hybrid cloud deployments that allow enterprises to run workloads in a public cloud like Azure and in their own data centers. Azure Stack, its project for bringing the core Azure services into the corporate data center, is the logical conclusion of this. If developers can target a single platform for both the public and private cloud, the thinking goes, then hybrid deployments become almost trivial.
After a year of technical previews, Microsoft has now delivered the first release version of Azure Stack to its hardware partners so that they can finish their certification process. As Microsoft announced at its Inspire conference today, partners like Dell EMC, HPE and Lenovo will start shipping their integrated systems with Azure Stack in September. Other partners, including Huawei and Cisco, will launch their systems at some point in the near future.
These systems from its partners, which will initially be available in 46 countries, are meant for multi-server production deployments. But to help developers get started, the company today also announced the launch of a free single-server kit (the Azure Stack Development Kit), which is now available for download. The free development kit will include all the core tools, including the Azure portal, Azure services, devops tools and access to Marketplace content.
"One of the key things we truly believe is that hybrid is a key differentiator for us and a steady state for our customers," Mike Neil, Microsoft’s corporate vice president for Azure Infrastructure and Management, told me. "We don’t believe every customer will move to the public cloud." The reasons for this are pretty varied, but for quite a few companies, it’s simply a matter of remaining in control of their data — often for regulatory and/or data sovereignty reasons. "Many of them have their roots in their environment today — in their data centers or their hosting partners’ data centers," Neil said. "We wanted to provide a solution that met these different needs."
During the technical preview period, the team also saw a number of users who wanted to use Azure Stack to power their applications at the edge of the network (or even completely disconnected from the wider internet). Those may be banks, for example, that want to do so for security reasons, or oil exploration companies that need to run their own mini-data centers in extreme conditions where connectivity can’t be guaranteed. Another example Microsoft likes to highlight is Carnival Cruise Line, which is deploying Azure Stack on some of its ships to power many of the day-to-day operations of running a massive cruise ship.
Microsoft is obviously no stranger to building applications and services for the data center. With Windows Server and Systems Center, it has long had a presence there. Unsurprisingly, Windows Server forms the basis of Azure Stack, too, but overall, the company is taking a completely different approach to how it delivers Azure Stack to its users.