Microsoft’s upcoming hybrid cloud platform, Azure Stack, provides customers with a way to use the cloud platform without sending their data into a multi-tenant network environment. Many familiar with the Azure public cloud can embrace Azure Stack without a hitch, as Azure Stack is designed to look and feel precisely like the Azure public cloud.

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The new release provides a cohesive management platform, seamlessly adapting between the private and public cloud. Impressively, none of Microsoft’s competitors has anything like Azure Stack.

Azure Stack’s release will have a substantial impact on IT and business professionals, especially in the fields of big data, AI and cloud computing. When Azure Stack releases this fall, there are several things you should know to take full advantage of the platform.

Zooming Ahead of the Competition

Out of the three major Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS) vendors, which also include Amazon Web Service and Google Cloud, Microsoft is the only one to provide a hybrid cloud platform that includes an on-premises hardware/software bundle running the same setup and management tooling as the public cloud. Google’s partnership with Nutanix aims to provide some hybrid cloud management, though the platform isn’t as fleshed-out yet as Azure Stack.

As an extension of Azure, Azure Stack’s ability to bring the fluidity of cloud computing to on-premises environments allows businesses to deliver Azure services from their data centers while still retaining a good deal of control and flexibility. The resulting hybrid cloud deployments are consistent and configurable as a result.

Vanishing Privacy Concerns

Microsoft’s public Azure platform is very useful, though some are understandably wary of employing it due to data sensitivity, data location and assorted regulations. A customer with sensitive data may be cautious putting it in the public cloud as a result. With Azure Stack, however, they can deploy it behind a firewall to process the data before having it interact with public cloud data and applications.

An example of Azure Stack’s security and flexibility is early Azure Stack user Carnival Cruise Lines, which utilised the platform on some of its ships as a way to power the day-to-day operations of operating a large cruise ship. Similarly, Carnival is an early example of many eventual businesses that will use Azure Stack to power their applications and data disconnected from the wider internet.

Oil companies, for instance, can use Azure Stack for connectivity within their assembly of mini data centres. In harsh weather conditions or below-ground-level operations, Azure Stack can provide connectivity where it wouldn’t typically be guaranteed. Some businesses can save up to 30% on software with increased workload analysis, which Azure Stack can provide.

Exploring Inside Azure Stack

Two components comprise Azure Stack — the Microsoft-licensed software and underlying infrastructure purchased from a Microsoft certified partner, presently comprised of HPE, Lenovo and Dell EMC. Cisco and Huawei expect to roll out Azure Stack support by the end of 2017 and 2018, respectively.

The software itself touts virtual networking, storage, virtual machines and other typical IaaS functions. Also, Azure Stack provides some platform-as-a-service (PaaS) features, such as the Azure Functions serverless computing software, SQL Server and MySQL support and the Azure Container Service.

The hardware operates on a Microsoft-certified hyper-converged infrastructure stack. Azure Stack deployment ranges from four-server racks to 12-server racks, with the eventual ability to scale multiple racks together. Third-party apps for Azure Stack are also available, in addition to templates that can operate programs such as Mesosphere, Cloud Foundry and Kubernetes.

Pricing Options for Azure Stack

There are several ways to purchase Azure Stack:

  • Available now is a software-only Azure Stack Development Kit (ASDK), designed as a trial software.
  • For the combined hardware-software version of Azure Stack, entitled Azure Stack Integrated System, customers buy hardware from Lenovo, HPE or Dell EMC and license Azure Stack to run within. Customers also may use a managed hosting partner or vendor to run the infrastructure, with Rackspace a good example.
  • For purchasing the licensed Azure Stack software, you can use a pay-as-a-you-go model, with the base starting at $6/virtual CPU/month. API, Web, Mobile and Azure Functions and App services are $42/vCPU/month ($0.056/hour).
  • The alternative is paying a fixed annual subscription, beginning at $144 per core per year, which can rise to $400 per core per year including higher-level services. Updates for Azure Stack are similar to normal Azure, where users can defer updates for up to six months, being forced to update after that.

Azure Stack is an exciting hybrid cloud platform with added security and flexibility compared to Azure, which is not up to par for many consumers seeking more privacy with their data and businesses seeking a more portable and reliable connectivity option.