Skip to main content

Implementing Azure stack? 5 things IT managers need to know

When it comes to the cloud, Azure is one of the top platforms for enterprise IT users. Azure Stack, a newer on-premises version of Azure, offers an alternative for companies that need to work in private or hybrid cloud environments. Here are 5 things you need to know before making the switch.

Microsoft announced Azure a decade ago, to serve companies needing to move beyond the limitations of the traditional data center. Few anticipated how successful Microsoft’s public cloud platform would become. Ten years on, an estimated 90 percent of Fortune 500 companies use Azure, according to Microsoft.

But a pure public cloud may not be the best answer for all organizations all of the time. There are many compelling reasons to turn to a private cloud or hybrid configuration, including regulatory requirements, security concerns, and network performance. Organizations trying to manage highly sensitive data or processing feeds from IoT sensors out on the edge are likely to encounter challenges if confined to a pure public cloud environment.

Microsoft’s Azure Stack—an on-premises private cloud implementation of Azure—offers an alternative. Introduced last year, it is has become a real option for IT leaders attracted to the notion of “cloud” but needing to work within a local environment that they can control and secure. 

If your developers are already working with Azure, the move to Azure Stack is a natural fit, as they can use the same Azure APIs and many of the third-party tools and services available through Azure marketplace. Further, Microsoft defines hardware and other infrastructure requirements for Azure Stack, so engineers and administrators don't have to worry about storage controllers, network controllers, and allocation of compute resources down at the level of the hardware platform.

This makes Azure Stack a very reliable and predictable platform, albeit one that is relatively new to many IT shops. To help boost your understanding of the pros and cons of Azure Stack, we’ve put together a short list of five things you should know about Azure Stack. 

1. Private cloud adoption is accelerating

Corporate users often turn to Amazon (AWS), Microsoft (Azure), and Google (Google Cloud) for their public cloud needs. According to RightScale’s State of the Cloud survey, AWS is used at 68 percent of companies with more than 1,000 employees, up from 56 percent two years ago. Azure’s penetration has reached 58 percent, more than double what it was two years ago. Google Cloud stands at 19 percent, up from 9 percent two years ago. Public cloud offerings from IBM, VMware, Oracle, and Alibaba have smaller usage rates among companies of this size. 

Nevertheless, private cloud adoption is a real trend. According to IDC, spending on private cloud infrastructure will experience a compound annual growth rate of 12.9 percent through 2022. Investments in traditional data centers will decline at a rate of 1.9 percent during the same period. 

2. Azure Stack underpins compute at the edge 

In IT we like to think in terms of tidy core-to-edge architectures, but real-world organizations are often grappling with sprawling facilities and remote sites, occasionally connecting to their headquarters over spotty networks yet needing to deliver seamlessly to customers. Azure Stack plus Azure is a perfect solution to this kind of challenge. Azure Stack deployed at remote sites ensures reliable high-performance transactional processing, then periodic connection to Azure enables tasks better performed centrally, such as data analytics. The demand for this type of hybrid architecture is expanding dramatically and linked to the explosion in the adoption of the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT). Azure IoT has a portfolio of IoT services and platform features that can help companies launch and integrate sensors, data, and applications. In addition, Microsoft says there are thousands of certified IoT devices from partners, further smoothing the path to deployment. 

Get the Azure Stack Beginner's Guide

3.  Azure/Azure Stack deployments eliminate the either/or of public and private cloud

Organizations spend a lot of time evaluating the relative merits of deploying onto a public vs. a private cloud. When Azure and Azure Stack are deployed together, it is no longer an either/or debate. Consider a company that is heavily invested in Azure in the public cloud but decides that some workloads would be better placed on premises. As a first step, it can easily do a “lift and shift,” a straight migration to a private cloud using Azure Stack on one of Microsoft’s prescribed hardware configurations. In this scenario, it doesn't need to change anything about the applications.

The intent isn't merely to port applications to a private cloud. Eventually, these organizations can move to cloud-native applications and leverage platform-as-a-service (PaaS) functions that aren’t available in a traditional IT model. Using Docker containers, load balancers, storage blobs, and other PaaS features available in Azure Stack, it’s possible to move portions of that application back to the public cloud or even to multiple public clouds. For example, a retailer’s hybrid environment may entail running a web front end out on the public cloud, while data for that application remains on a private cloud.  

4. Adopting Azure Stack goes beyond thinking about the tech specs

There are additional considerations beyond the particulars of the technology stack. How do operational models change for cloud-based offerings? When moving from a traditional IT/virtualized environment, what is the potential impact on the organizational structure? What are the additional staffing costs when shifting to an on-premises private or hybrid cloud? Will the company see performance suffer as a result?

It’s when companies start thinking through these considerations that the appeal of a managed Azure Stack infrastructure becomes apparent. Companies don't want to worry about the nuts and bolts of Azure Stack. They just want to take the applications that support their core missions and run them on the cloud. 

5. The right partner can take away the pain of managed Azure Stack deployments

Companies interested in moving to Azure Stack can turn to an experienced partner to assist with or outright take over the following areas: 

  • Planning
  • Deployment
  • Monitoring  
  • Expansion

When it comes to expanding Azure Stack, having capacity planning and consumption-based billing included in the managed service makes things run far more smoothly and heads off problems during peak usage periods or periods of strong business growth. A knowledgeable partner can also help think through the shift to cloud-native applications, which can potentially enable totally new services and market opportunities. 

Ideally, the perfect partner would provide a single point of contact for everything—hardware, operations, support, consulting, billing, and professional services. No one wants to have to cobble together services from different partners or deal with complex handoffs, service gaps, or finger-pointing when something goes wrong. Having a one-stop shop makes it so much easier to deploy Azure Stack on premises, develop and expand cloud-native applications, and let the organization concentrate on its core business mission.

 Implementing Azure Stack: Lessons for leaders

  • Implementing a cloud-first strategy using Azure Stack requires thinking beyond Microsoft’s prescribed hardware configurations. Other considerations include day-to-day operational requirements, the impact on training and hiring, and planning for future expansion.
  • Companies often start with a “lift and shift,” or a straight migration to a private cloud using Azure Stack. Long term, the goal will involve developing cloud-native applications.
  • Businesses want the benefits of on-premises cloud infrastructure, yet also need to focus on the applications that support their core missions. Turning over planning, deployment, and operational responsibilities of the on-premises cloud to a trusted partner may be the best option. 

This article/content was written by the individual writer identified and does not necessarily reflect the view of Hewlett Packard Enterprise Company.