Microsoft’s Azure Stack Is Useful but Not for Everyone

by Andrew Froehlich

Infrastructure architects responsible for building hybrid or multi-cloud environments are being met with an increasing number of products and services that promise to alleviate the burden of managing disparate data center environments.

Technologies such as network overlays, software-defined networking (SDN), cloud access security brokers (CASB) and multi-cloud management platforms are marketed as a way to unify the management of public and private clouds. Yet, while each can indeed help to simplify cloud management, there are also drawbacks to each strategy. (See Hybrid Cloud Adoption: 5 Keys to Success.)

Now, enter Microsoft.

The software giant recently announcing it’s starting to take orders for the company’s Azure Stack platform. Azure Stack essentially allows customers to spin up the same cloud platform that Microsoft runs in its public cloud inside a private, on-premises data center. (See Microsoft’s Azure Stack Creeps Closer to Release.)

Is Microsoft looming over your cloud plans? (Source: Efes via Pixabay)

Is Microsoft looming over your cloud plans?
(Source: Efes via Pixabay)

It’s yet another tool in the toolbox — and one that’s going to be incredibly appealing to many.

At the same time, Azure Stack isn’t going to be for everyone. Let’s look at the pros and cons of an Azure cloud and stack architectures and point out businesses that should — and should not — be interested.

If you look at the hybrid- and multi-cloud management solutions available today, you’ll find they all have a common goal — to mask differing cloud technologies so operate as if they were a single unit. Whether this be accomplished through overlays, APIs or proxy technologies, the idea is to create a uniform experience with which to manage your entire public and private cloud infrastructure. (See Oracle Acquires Apiary to Bolster Cloud APIs.)

However, pulling this off is easier said than done.

Instead, wouldn’t it be far easier if your underlying public and private cloud infrastructures were identical in the first place?

This is precisely what Azure Stack aims to achieve. Since Azure Stack is essentially the same platform that Azure’s public cloud operates on, you can extend your public cloud presence directly into your private data center. That means you gain the benefits of fully hybrid integration without the need for any type of masking or overlay trickery.

Applications and data that need to stay local can do so with the ability to manage your public and private cloud using a single management interface and using the same infrastructure policies. It also significantly reduces many of the hurdles when attempting to migrate applications from a private data center to the Azure public cloud.

Yet, it’s important to remember that the combination of Azure Stack and Azure Cloud isn’t an all-encompassing multi-cloud strategy. Instead, it should be thought of as a hybrid approach.

Even though there will be plenty of third-party cloud providers that will gladly implement Azure Stack on their networks for you to achieve some semblance of independence from Microsoft, you’re still stuck in a single-vendor architecture with a host of limitations.

For small and midsized business customers, the combination of Azure and Azure Stack is going to be a great fit. This is especially true if they already have a hefty presence in Microsoft’s public cloud.

For larger organizations, however, approaches that use wider-reaching technologies such as SDN, allow for greater flexibility. An SDN-focused strategy creates a centralized infrastructure at the network level. What this means is that it doesn’t matter what the cloud architecture looks like on top. In terms of flexibility and scalability, it remains unrivaled from a multi-cloud deployment strategy.

Additionally, advancements in SDN technologies — such as Cisco’s recent announcement of its intent-based networking tools — show that real-world deployments of end-to-end SDN are just around the corner. (See Intent-Based Networking: What Does It Mean for Your Cloud?.)