I work with the native Azure portal fairly regularly, but I hadn’t heard much about the Azure Stack family other than that it’s like an off-shoot of Azure but for on-premise infrastructure. Unfortunately, I’ve never had the opportunity to actually get hands-on with it. But recently, I was researching about the Azure Stack portfolio products for something at work and it didn’t take long for it to catch my interest!
I must admit, it threw me in a loop in the beginning with it’s 3 different products (Azure Stack Hub, Azure Stack Edge, and Azure Stack HCI), and I was a bit confused about the difference between them. Since some features of these products overlap with each other (but of course I didn’t know that then!), I felt like I was reading the same thing over and over again, but for the other product. In this blog, I’ll try to lay out the differences – as I understand them – about how the individual products stand out amongst the other two.
That’s enough waffle – now lets talk about the Azure Stack Portfolio in general, what it is, why it came about and why is it catching attention of a lot of people!
Before I talk about the what, let me quickly talk about the why. And for that lets discuss a bit about the public clouds, the private clouds and what it means to have a hybrid cloud. In the interest of avoiding a really long single blog, let’s talk about the what in part 2.
“Traditional” Azure basically means the public Azure, and I think people are moving to clouds for one of these three major reasons – of course there are a lot more, but these three sum the most of it pretty broadly.
Ease of use
Single plane of management –
You can manage your infrastructure, your apps, monitoring, security, all from a single console. You don’t have to switch a bunch of different tools and consoles and what have you – You can manage it all from the Azure portal.
Scalability means you can keep your business or services running optimally all the time, regardless of the traffic. Azure can auto-scale up and down based on the incoming traffic so you don’t end up over-provisioning or under-provisioning your resources.
Learning resources –
Microsoft documentation is pretty great, there are hundreds of communities and forums and blogs for you to learn from. This may not sounds as important, but it can be a real life-saver when it comes to daily Azure administration.
Ease of business
With Azure’s IaaS/PaaS capabilities, you can quickly get up and running within a matter of hours if not minutes with your business, without having to worry about any upfront investment in infrastructure.
High Availability –
High Availability is important when you need your services almost always up and accessible, even if there is something wrong with one rack of servers, one datacenter or even one whole geographic region, Azure will have copies available of your data so that your services are uninterrupted.
Pay per use –
One of the greatest things about Azure, especially for businesses is that you only pay for what you’re using. So you can spin up your resources on-the-go, use them for whatever you need them for, and then remove them. You will only be charged for the time or compute you’ve used it for. So there is no upfront financial commitment.
Value to efforts ratio
Quick to set up and go –
You don’t have to worry about the nitty-gritty of maintaining the server/network infrastructure, purchasing new devices, maintaining your own datacenter and everything that comes with it. You just log in, spin things up, use them, delete them and move on.
Less admin overhead –
If you’re using cloud services, you don’t have to worry about the underlying compute power, hardware, upgrading, patching, monitoring – all of that is abstracted away from you. This is even better when using PaaS on Azure, where you don’t even have to install any components on the servers to use them. You can just spin up an instance and start working your magic.
Use what you know –
This basically means that you can still leverage your existing skills as say a server admin, storage admin, SQL admin to operate resources on Azure. Sure there are some things you have to learn in and about Azure, but they’re built on top of the skills you already have.
So, I hear you asking – “if Azure is all sunshine and rainbows, why don’t people use Azure for everything?”
Glad you asked!
While Azure does make your job easier and quicker, at the end of the day public cloud is still your data in someone else’s computers. And that doesn’t work sometimes.
For example, for companies involved in medical, financial, or government sectors, you need your data to be on your computers. Since the nature of this kind of data is sensitive, you want to make sure it is close to the source and secured using your company’s policies.
Also, the cloud is easy to set up and abstracts away a lot of responsibilities, the flip side of that is that you trade control and customization of your workloads to what Azure/Microsoft gives you.
And finally, even if there is no upfront cost to running workloads in Azure, over time Azure can get pretty expensive, especially if you’re not cleaning it up properly. Some resources are more expensive to consume than the others, and keeping them running over a long period of time can accumulate a lot of cost.
So, what’s the solution?
This is where “Hybrid cloud” steps in.
I think one of the biggest uses for a hybrid cloud is that for more complex and advanced workflows like big data, AI/ML, IOT you can consume Azure’s managed services easily than having to first set all of this up and then maintaining it, while also managing every bit of administration. Especially if you’re just testing the waters about adapting these things in your business you can try them out relatively easily and quickly. This in turn also translates to a lot of cost savings, especially in the beginning.
Some companies use hybrid cloud model to process critical data at source, and then they send it to Azure for monitoring, analysis, dashboarding, archiving, etc. A lot of companies also use hybrid as a part of their DR plans. You run your production workflows on premise in your datacenter, but you also have copies available in Azure in case a disaster strikes, and you lose access to your datacenter.
Now that we’ve established why you’d even want to run a hybrid cloud in your organization, in the next part let’s talk about how the Azure Stack family products fit into this puzzle.