Microsoft Azure Stack is officially open for business, with channel partners across Australia and New Zealand already delivering on the promise of hybrid cloud.
Following a round of technical previews and testing, Datacom is one provider in the midst of building out local capabilities, with plans now in place to increase go-to-market strategies on both sides of the Tasman.
For many, Azure Stack - which allows providers to build their own versions of Azure in private data centres - is seen as Microsoft’s secret weapon in the cloud, a weapon capable of taking down industry rival and long-time market leader Amazon Web Services (AWS).
Unveiled during the opening day of Microsoft Inspire in Washington D.C., the tech giant delivered the first release version of Azure Stack to hardware partners, with Dell EMC, Hewlett Packard Enterprise and Lenovo already on board, and Cisco and Huawei set to follow.
In providing servers and equipment required to run the services, the hardware partners will ship the first systems to customers in September.
“Throughout the technical previews, we’ve seen tremendous customer and partner excitement around Microsoft Azure Stack,” Microsoft corporate vice president of Azure infrastructure and management Mike Neil said.
“Our partners are excited about the new business opportunities opened up by our ‘One Azure Ecosystem’ approach, which helps them extend their Azure investments to Azure stack, to unlock new possible for hybrid could environments.”
Alongside its hardware partners, Microsoft also released pricing for the pay-as-you-use and capacity-based models, alongside Azure Stack Development Kit (ASDK) availability.
ASDK, the free single-sever deployment option for trial purposes, is now available for web download, allowing partners to build and validate applications for integrated systems deployments.
“Azure Stack is an extension of Azure, thereby enabling a truly consistent hybrid cloud platform,” Neil said. “Consistency removes hybrid cloud complexity, which helps you maximise your investments across cloud and on-premise environments.
“Consistency enables you to build and deploy applications using the exact same approach - same APIs, same DevOps tools, same portal - leading to increased developer productivity.
“Consistency enables you to develop cloud applications faster by building on Azure Marketplace application components. Consistency enables you to confidently invest in people and processes knowing that those are fully transferable.”
Furthermore, in its initial release, Azure Stack also includes a core set of Azure services, DevOps tooling, and Azure Marketplace content, all of which are delivered through an integrated systems approach.
“It’s a game-changer for many different reasons but primarily because it simplifies IT strategy,” Datacom associate director of transformation and enablement Mark Hile told Reseller News. “For example, the ability to use a single set of deployment templates and operational procedures across on-premise infrastructure and public cloud was previously not possible.
“The ability to develop modern next-generation applications once, then choose the most suitable location to deploy workloads based on the business requirements has not been possible.”
Hile said Azure Stack also allows Datacom to leverage its next-generation automated managed services across local infrastructure, providing efficiency improvements previously only achievable through the public cloud.
“In a nutshell Azure Stack is an Azure consistent cloud platform in a local data centre,” Hile explained. “There has been a lot of hype around hybrid cloud and many businesses have discovered that integrated disparate systems across public cloud and local premises can be very challenging.
“Often this means duplicating many IT functions or procedures which creates complexity and adds cost. Azure Stack is important because it is the first solution to deliver consistency between local and public cloud systems, all managed by a single interface or consistent set of API’s.”
On both sides of the Tasman, Datacom has been testing Azure Stack since the first technical preview releases, working closely with Microsoft to build out go-to-market offerings.
With an internal team created to drive the initiative, the business is continuing to run validation testing with customers, before moving into production when the multi-node version is released.
“We will offer both hosted and multi-tenant and dedicated customer solutions under various consumption pricing models,” Hile told ARN.
While Datacom isn’t the only local partner preparing to maximise the benefits of the Azure Stack, Hile said the company is “uniquely positioned” to capitalise on the opportunity through its “vast ecosystem” of complementary products and services.
“Our large development teams can leverage the platform services (PaaS) to significantly reduce development timeframes while our National Network can provide simplified and cost effective data links,” Hile explained.
Unveiled in August 2016, the National Network interconnects Datacom’s nine data centres spread across Queensland, NSW, Victoria, South Australia and Western Australia.
Designed to make IT infrastructure customisable, the network produces scalable solutions, in both speed and storage, reliability and security, while also catering to state data localisation laws.
“Also, we can leverage our next-generation management platforms that can automate technical and ITSM processes along with our consulting teams to provide sensible and independent workload assessments to ensure the wider business benefits from the IT strategy,” Hile added. “Testing to date has been very positive with customers confirming the many business benefits Azure Stack provides.”
From an end-user perspective, Hile said Datacom is currently engaged with a range of customers across the Asia Pacific region, spanning industry verticals such as legal, government and entertainment.
“Latency is real for many customers across New Zealand and regional Australia,” Hile added. “Without a local public cloud presence user experience can suffer dramatically, not to mention the ongoing cost of bandwidth in many areas.”
In the metropolitan areas of Australia, alongside select parts of Asia and high security environments, Hile said different customer needs are emerging, with end-users attracted to the benefits of public cloud but “cannot or prefer not” to move.
“In these scenarios we can 'bring public cloud to the mainframe' in their region or data centre,” he explained. “Therefore it’s really about choice, customers will select Azure Stack where it makes sense for their given workload, but importantly if business requirements change then moving to Azure is a simple process, not a major transition.”
For Hile, Azure Stack has an important role to play in the A/NZ market because it supports the priorities of the IT leaders around key topics such as digital transformation, automation, operational efficiency and consumption based pricing.
“While digital transformation might be the current buzz word of the industry, Azure Stack supports the technology side of this agenda leaving business leaders to focus on their customers and core business,” Hile said. “A/NZ markets embrace disruptive technologies and true hybrid is the next evolution of cloud platforms.”
Competitively speaking, the release will help Microsoft claw back ground in the wider cloud market, with AWS currently lacking a credible Azure Stack alternative.
Perhaps AWS could point to its relationship with VMware as a counter play, yet the partnership provides a different set of customer and partner advantages, and is viewed by many as fundamentally different to the Azure Stack.
“Microsoft has been very strategic and understands that not all workloads are suitable for public cloud,” Hile added. “Azure Stack favours any workload that cannot currently be moved to public cloud, along with many edge, disconnected or Internet of Things (IoT) workloads.
“Additionally, Azure Stack can reduce IT transition risk as complex applications can be transformed in the local data centre before they are moved to Azure.”
Looking ahead, Hile believes Azure Stack will take its place as a “disruptive technology” within the market, creating opportunities for partners across the wider Microsoft ecosystem.
“Datacom embraces disruptive technology that delivers better outcomes for our customers so we will structure our cloud business accordingly,” Hile added. “The network and data centre businesses support the delivery of Azure Stack and form part of our Azure Stack ecosystem.”
James Henderson attended Microsoft Inspire as a guest of Microsoft.