What is Microsoft Azure Stack and How Can it Help Your Business?

| Author , tagged in cloud partner, cloud managed services, cloud migration, data, azure, managed services, technology
Cloudticity, L.L.C.

Certain situations make it difficult for a company to complete a full migration to the public cloud. There are a host of reasons why.

The bottom line is that those companies may feel like they are missing out on some of the features and applications that a public cloud platform can offer.

The good news is that the major cloud-managed service providers recognize this and have started to offer hybrid solutions.

These combine cloud and on-premises computing and storage. This way, companies can fully take advantage of managed services and cloud applications, which ensure the security and low latency of an on-premises data center.

Microsoft has entered this market with its hybrid cloud offering called “Azure Stack.” This allows companies to take advantage of the innovation of cloud computing and all that Microsoft Azure offers, while keeping hardware and software in-house to meet the regulatory and performance demands that it has.

In this article, we’ll fully explore Azure Stack. We’ll investigate some of the hardware and software needed to run it, its costs, and its capabilities.

We’ll also explore the cloud services demonstrating Azure Stack innovation, which is helping to grow business lines and leverage advanced technologies like artificial intelligence.

Why do Organizations Use Microsoft Azure Stack?

There are multiple reasons that companies may not be able to fully take advantage of Microsoft Azure as a public cloud service. Companies with these restrictions are now able to utilize the cloud services that were never possible with exclusively on-premises or private cloud solutions.

The first, and maybe most common reason is data security compliance. Regulations in the healthcare and financial sectors sometimes dictate that sensitive data such as “Protected Health Information” (PHI) or financial transactions must be kept in a local data center. 

Cloud technology often makes managing large amounts of information of the type that financial institutions, healthcare providers, and similar organizations collect highly efficient. It is, therefore, unfortunate to miss out on what the Azure public cloud can offer. 

Financial and Healthcare organizations provide a great example of Azure Stack use cases. The sensitive data can be kept in the local data center, and less crucial data can be stored in the cloud, for instance. The local data still benefits from all the Azure public cloud services.

Another reason that many organizations are turning to Microsoft Azure Stack is the ability to deploy their applications on both the Stack and Azure platforms as scaling dictates.

Certain tasks can take place locally, then can be moved to the public cloud when more insight and analytics are necessary.

What’s the Difference Between Azure Stack and Azure?

With two products sharing the same root name, it can be a bit confusing to know the difference between them. Let’s break down how these services compare.

Microsoft Azure

Azure is a full-service cloud platform, launched in 2010. All data resides in Microsoft’s own data centers, which are located throughout the world. It supports Software as a Service, PaaS, and Infrastructure as a Service, depending on what customers need. It supports a large number of programming languages, APIs, and native and third-party tools.

Services provided by Azure include:

  • Computing
  • Networking
  • Storage
  • Artificial Intelligence
  • Machine Learning
  • Developer tools
  • And many more

Microsoft Azure Stack

Azure Stack enables the use of many of the above Azure functions to be used locally, even when disconnected from the internet. While not as full-featured as Azure, it allows companies to keep data in-house, which may solve compliance and other technical issues they have.

Microsoft Azure Stack is really a combination of three different services. We’ll go through these in more detail later in this article. These three services are:

  • Azure Stack HCI
  • Azure Stack Hub
  • Azure Stack Edge

Each one of those performs a different function. All of them provide access to Azure resources while still maintaining on-premises hardware.

What are the Benefits of Using Microsoft Azure Stack?

When companies use Azure Stack, it offers so many advantages over a purely on-premises environment for computing workload and storage.

The benefits come in several different forms that meet the technical and security demands that many companies have.

Consistent Application Development

Application Developers on your IT team will have reason to be happy if your company adopts Azure Stack. This is because they will no longer need to develop separate applications that can run on the public cloud, the private cloud or on-premises servers.

Microsoft Azure Stack uses the latest DevOps practices for maximum efficiency. With Azure Stack, developers can:

  • Build, deploy and operate applications for hybrid cloud environments
  • Utilize programming languages that are familiar to them, such as Java, PHP, Python, or open-source platforms.
  • Use visual studio and open-source terms to develop web apps.

Harness the Power of Azure Services

By adopting the hybrid Azure Stacks approach, companies can deploy according to their needs. This allows them to:

  • Use VM Scale to tackle complex workloads
  • Cut down on the learning curve because the operational syntax is the same between Azure and Azure Stack.
  • Future-proof applications by taking advantage of Azure Marketplace
  • The use of virtual networks 

Using Azure Stack as a Platform-as-a-Service (PaaS)

One innovative use of Azure Stack is providing it to customers as a service. This can potentially provide an additional business line.

Large financial institutions, for instance, can host Microsoft Azure Stack, then provide it as a consumable service to other businesses in the form of a private cloud.

This is a huge benefit to businesses that need to scale to the cloud, but want to avoid the inherent risks of putting financial data on the public cloud.

Azure Primary Use Cases

There are generally three major scenarios where Azure Stack is a preferred solution. These are broken down into three groups of products offered by Microsoft. Let’s take a look at each in more detail:

Azure Stack Edge

When remote and edge operations are necessary, Microsoft offers Stack Edge, which is a “hardware as a service.” It works seamlessly with Internet of Things (IoT) devices, as containers can be managed locally. Latency issues and unreliable network connectivity can be greatly mitigated using Stack Edge. It also supports machine learning and artificial intelligence.

Azure Stack HCI (Hyper-Converged Infrastructure)

When edge computing environments need to be modernized, Azure Stack HCI is the best choice. These are small form factors, which make installation easy, regardless of the physical space available.

It’s the best tool when regulations require on-premises data storage. It also supports a familiar set of third-party management tools, as well as Windows Server and Hyper V.

Azure Stack Hub

The Stack Hub allows for the running of cloud-native apps like the ones found in the Azure cloud. Latency is reduced greatly by using local services running on Azure Stack Hub. Then, these can be sent to Azure for further processing.

The Stack Hub is the preferred solution for organizations needing to keep data on-premises but modernize with state-of-the-art architectures.

Microsoft Azure Stack Services Products

There are a host of standard Azure products that are included with Azure Stack. This is precisely what makes it attractive to many different types of businesses and organizations. Let’s take a look at some of the functionality built right into Azure Stack.

Azure Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS)

While you aren’t necessarily reaping the benefit of pure IaaS where you don’t need to dedicate physical space and power resources to building infrastructure, you’ll find many of the important IaaS applications that are a part of the Azure ecosystem, such as:

  • Azure Virtual Machines
  • Azure Storage
  • Azure Networking
  • Azure Key Vault

Azure Platform as a Service (PaaS)

PaaS options are known for their ease of configuration and administration. That’s one of the benefits of using Azure Stack, as it includes several of the most popular Azure PaaS tools:

  • Azure App Services
  • Azure Functions
  • Axure Container Services

Azure Marketplace

Users of Azure know the importance of Azure Marketplace. This online store has software specifically designed by some of the top companies in the industry specifically for the Azure platform.

Taking advantage of the Marketplace for on-premises computing is one of the biggest selling features of Microsoft Azure Stack. Here are a few of the top choices that you can take advantage of after Azure Stack Deployment:

Windows Server

  • Linux
  • Azure Docker
  • Microsoft SQL Server

Backup and Disaster Recovery Tools

Compliance is one of the major reasons that drive companies to adopt an on-premises solution. Microsoft Azure Stack provides the Azure protection and recovery tools to make this a reality. 

HIPAA compliance, for instance, requires both data protection and a recovery plan, and tools like the following are essential for delivering on that requirement:

  • Azure Backup
  • Data Protection Manager (DPM)
  • Azure Site Recovery 

What are the Requirements for Azure Stack Deployment?

Since Microsoft Azure Stack is, at its heart, an on-premises solution, you will need to dedicate physical space to run it. The typical installation includes at least four racks worth of equipment.

You’ll need to run Azure Stack on certified hardware, of course. Multiple manufacturers are making equipment for implementation, including:

  • Hewlett Packard Enterprise
  • Dell
  • Lenovo
  • Cisco
  • Huawei

How Much Does Azure Stack Cost?

There are a couple of considerations when determining Azure Stack Cost. The first is that you’ll need to invest in the validated hardware to run the Stack Services. For instance, the HPE ProLiant for Azure Stack costs around $300,000 for the base configuration. This includes:

  • Four to Twelve DL380 Azure Stack Hubs
  • DL360 Hardware manager
  • Three switches for interconnects
  • Integrated power distribution units.

Then, you’ll need to pay for the specific service, whether that’s Azure Stack HCI, Azure Stack Hub, or Azure Stack Edge. The pricing for all of these is slightly different.

For Azure HCI, payment is on a monthly per-core basis, starting at $10 per physical core per month. Remember that you’ll have to purchase the hardware, so the total cost will add up quickly.

Azure Stack Hub is sold as one complete integrated hardware system, which alleviates the problem of making such a huge upfront investment. All of the Azure services are billed monthly. For example:

  • Base Virtual Machines are $6 per vCPU each month
  • A Windows Server Virtual Machine is $34 vCPU per month
  • Azure App Services, like Web Apps, API Apps, and Functions are all $42 vCPU/month

Azure Stack Edge also involves the use of verified hardware. The prices range from $350 per month up to $615, depending on the model and specifications.

Azure Stack Support

Microsoft is known for its high-level solutions and support for Azure Stack Customers. At any time, operators can visit “Help + Support” on the Azure Stack console. This will easily allow them to create a ticket and send logs, which can make troubleshooting quick and easy.

Sometimes, a call or chat with support isn’t even necessary. The Help + Support tab has a wealth of useful information that can provide optimized configurations, best practices, and tutorials. 

Microsoft has implemented a coordinated escalation and resolution process that works with the OEM hardware manufacturers and Microsoft itself. This helps customers get to the right support, be it Microsoft or hardware manufacturers.

Pro Tip: if your company is using the Azure Stack Development Kit, think twice before you use it for production workloads. When it’s used in this capacity, Azure Stack customers can only find support in the Microsoft Forums.

How Can Your Business Benefit From Azure Stack?

As you can see there is a lengthy list of specific benefits which make it sensible to use Azure Stack. It can enable organizations to take advantage of many of the most important cloud computing capabilities found on Azure. 

To get the most out of Azure Stack, you’ll want to start by gathering as much information from your IT team as possible about the technical requirements to meet your organizational mission. Spend time with your accounting and finance team to understand your budget.

After that, it’s a good time to chat with sales representatives at Microsoft Azure Stack. They can go over Azure capabilities, and potential configurations and help narrow down which ones will provide the industry solutions you are looking for.

Want to learn more about how Cloudticity can help you be successful with Azure Stack? Schedule a free consultation today.

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