Say Hello to Hybrid Cloud Capable Azure Stack HCI

For those not already in the know, HCI stands for HyperConverged Infrastructure, a computing industry term for software and services that can deliver virtualized compute, storage, and networking capabilities. Just yesterday, Microsoft  announced that its Azure Stack HCI will run on — plus integrate and interoperate between  — on-premises installations and in-the-cloud instances without any need for extra programming or API connections/connectors. This interesting nugget of info appeared in a Microsoft Azure blog post entitled Deliver hybrid cloud capabilities with the next generation of Azure Stack HCI.

Let me explain a little further that “hybrid cloud” falls somewhere between the Holy Grail and a much-sought-after touchstone for cloud consumers. What it really means is that such consumers can run processes or services in a cloud-like environment even on local hardware, and that it will work with (or migrate to) cloud-based services and capabilities. The problem with hybrid cloud, historically speaking, has been that it is something that it quite easy to talk about, but also something that in actual practice turns out to be difficult to do.

With Next-Gen Azure Stack HCI, MS Brings On-Prem and In-the-Cloud Together

In a kind of Alexandrine solution (remember how he cut the Gordian knot?), Microsoft’s latest implementation of Azure Stack HCI lets organizations run the same software on-premises that Azure itself runs in the cloud. Here’s how Microsoft describes what’s going on in the afore-linked blog post:

Today, we’re delivering the next generation of Azure Stack HCI, an Azure service that combines the price-performance of hyperconverged infrastructure (HCI) with native Azure hybrid capabilities, all while letting enterprises leverage existing skills.

The new Azure Stack HCI solution is an Azure service, giving customers the latest security, performance, and hybrid enhancements. It delivers an integrated management and operations experience with Azure allowing customers to manage Azure Stack HCI deployments and Azure resources, side-by-side, right from the Azure portal. Customers can monitor multiple clusters at scale and even view and manage virtual machines (VMs) running on Azure Stack HCI taking advantage of Azure Arc.

IT administrators can also use a new deployment wizard to quickly setup an Azure Stack HCI cluster and connect to Azure and take advantage of Azure Stack HCI native integration with core Azure services such as Azure Backup, Azure Security Center, and Azure Monitor, so customers can easily take advantage of Azure hybrid management capabilities.

The bottom line is that organizations who want hybrid cloud capabilities can do so using Azure, as long as they’re willing to run Azure-related software on their local server farms (or in their data centers) along with Azure in the cloud. Microsoft describes scenarios that range from a branch office situation, with an 8 core server with less than 16 VMs, all the way up to full-blown data center scale deployments (hundreds of servers, and thousands to tens of thousands of VMs). They also make the hardware tie-in and specifically mention partnerships with companies that include Lenovo and Intel, who are adding Azure HCI Stack support to their existing HCI offerings and systems. MS observes further that “We are also offering the flexibility of running Azure Stack HCI on existing hardware if it matches our validated node solutions. We believe this is an important new change for customers to get the most value out of their current hardware investment.”

That last quote is a masterful bit of “aw shucks, it’s nothing really” verbiage that will come as a thunderbolt to companies of many sizes and names who’ve been making a living from building and providing HCI hardware and software to customers for going on two decades now. All this said, I am more than curious to see those “validated node solutions” and what will be required to match them. If they’re general and compatible enough with today’s rack-mounted data center hardware, this could be a real game changer. It will be fasincating, in fact, to see how this impacts the HCI marketplace in general. Good stuff!

Author: Ed Tittel

Ed Tittel is a 30-plus-year computer industry veteran. He’s a Princeton and multiple University of Texas graduate who’s worked in IT since 1981 when he started his first programming job. Over the past three decades he’s also worked as a manager, technical evangelist, consultant, trainer, and an expert witness. See his professional bio for all the details.