Most revolutions don’t happen out of the blue or overnight. In advance many uproars and chaotic events take place. So when the revolution itself breaks out, people aren’t too much surprised because they were warned by the preludes of it.
Some revolutions however, seem to happen overnight. Without any signs or warnings in advance. Of course, when looking back after the revolution has taken place, there were some signs on the wall of the event itself. But somehow they went mostly unnoticed or weren’t linked in order to make up a bigger picture.
The feeling to witness the latter type of revolution came over me when I watched the video about Microsoft Azure Stack (MAS) on Channel 9 last week.
Let me clarify it.
A few steps back into history
In the ‘old’ days – before Microsoft launched their new vision and strategy – they offered a stack of tools in order to enable companies to build their own private cloud. This stack of tools is branded System Center 2012.
But this stack introduced some challenges. Like a rather big footprint in your datacenter, different management consoles per product of the stack, a rather high level of complexity and skill set requirements per product. So the management of the tools to manage the private cloud requires some serious efforts.
Also the timeframe in which most System Center products were originally designed and built took its toll. Most of them came to be before the ‘dawn of the cloud era’. As a result many cloud characteristics like elasticity, multi-tenant support, measuring and metering capabilities, weren’t originally built in and – at best – added later on when possible. The only exception being here is VMM which was specifically designed to enable the private cloud.
Because of it, the adoption of the private cloud based on System Center technologies didn’t get to the levels Redmond hoped for. In many cases the good old datacenter approach was kept alive, being managed by one or more System Center 2012 products, but never brought to the level of the private cloud.
In those days Microsoft already offered their version of the public cloud, branded Windows Azure Platform. Back then the Azure service offerings were limited, thus the use case scenarios were limited as well.
Both cloud models can be connected with each other, creating a primitive kind of hybrid cloud. So one can upload VMs and or workloads from the private cloud to Microsoft’s public cloud and vice versa. The underlying technologies however are totally different and even kept away from the public. In those days it’s a publicly known that the System Center 2012 stack isn’t used to manage the Windows Azure Platform. But the knowledge what drives it instead is the real secret here, carefully kept away from the public.
Microsoft changes direction
With Satya Nadella as new CEO of Microsoft the ‘mobile-first, cloud-first’ strategy is launched and fully embraced. Because of it Microsoft dedicates the majority of its vast resources and budget to the development and growth of the Windows Azure Platform.
It’s rebranded to Microsoft Azure and many new services (IaaS, PaaS and SaaS) are added on an almost weekly/monthly basis. It’s also made open source by adding full support for many non-Microsoft based technologies.
On top of it, Microsoft moved its own services like Xbox, Skype, Windows Intune and Office 365 to Microsoft Azure. All about ‘eat your own dog food’, showing the world that Azure is capable of running serious work loads.
Many customers follow Microsoft suit by using Azure for many different use case scenarios. Like application development, bursting peak workloads, or running whole production environments.
When companies started to do that, they noticed even more the differences between Azure and their – when present – own private cloud. These differences run deep. It starts at the interface level but it goes through the whole eco system.
As such Microsoft started to change things. Step by step. First at the user interface level, making it more transparent. This allowed customers to have a more unified user experience, whether consuming services on premise or Azure based cloud resources.
So the Windows Azure Pack (WAP) came to be, mostly aimed at Managed Service Providers, allowing them to build their own cloud using the System Center stack but presented with a look-a-like Microsoft Azure portal for the end user.
Of course there is much more to WAP, but for the end user it was a huge improvement since it resembled much more with the Azure portal they also used. Underneath however it’s still a whole different eco system compared to Microsoft Azure.
Microsoft Azure is coming to YOUR datacenter!
With the launch of the public preview version of Microsoft Azure Stack (MAS) Microsoft has chosen a new approach. Besides helping customers to embrace Microsoft Azure, Microsoft brings Azure with MAS into their very own datacenters as well.
Whereas WAP uses the System Center stack, MAS skips this all together. Instead it uses the same eco system as their own Azure eco system! This is a HUGE difference compared to WAP where the System Center stack is a hard requirement.
This is the Microsoft Azure Stack (MAS) fabric:
The only difference between MAS and Microsoft Azure is the Cloud-inspired infrastructure fabric layer of MAS. Which is totally understandable since Microsoft’s Azure storage build out minimum stamp size is 1000 servers!
Therefore it’s not suited for on premise datacenters. As such it had to be redesigned and remodeled for on premise implementations. So now not only the portals are the same but the whole eco system as well. Which is awesome. This brings the hyper scale public cloud into your own data center!
Azure Resource Manager (ARM), the spider in the web…
ARM is leading here. Even more, as Microsoft puts it: ‘…the next generation of the Azure Platform build on top of ARM…’. So Azure itself has got a huge overhaul and has been brought to a whole new level.
ARM is the new common control plane across all Azure services. It enables template based deployment of applications. In this template all required resources (like websites, databases and services) are described, thus enabling a constant uniform deployment of cloud based applications.
When the user selects the application in the market place or gallery, all required resources are automatically deployed and properly configured (based on parameters when required) and presented to the end user when ready, many times within minutes…
Also unified Role Based Access Control (RBAC) is present, based on Azure AD Roles and User Assignments. So whether the user works in MAS or Microsoft Azure, RBAC is enforced in both eco systems.
I know, there is much more to MAS. But this posting isn’t meant to describe it all but to share the common idea behind it.
For me the main thing is that Microsoft Azure is coming to your data center. Not a look-a-like, but the full blown Azure eco system, which is awesome. I am sure it will drive the cloud adoption to a great extend since the differences between on premise and public cloud are moving away very fast.
And yet, it allows companies to choose what to run/store on premise (sensitive data for instance!) while using Microsoft Azure services. So now companies don’t have to choose between private or public cloud, but can mix them as they see fit and are required by the regulations and company policies they have to adhere to.
When looking at the current preview version of MAS I’ve got tons of questions, like failover, how to switch between datacenters, how to store data for backups, how to extend the MAS footprint by adding other MAS boxes(?). And so on.
But I also know this is a PREVIEW version and it’s RTM date is projected for Q4 2016. Looking at the speed of today’s Microsoft I am convinced when MAS goes RTM it will be a serious hit and yes, a revolution indeed since it brings the hyper scale public cloud environment into YOUR data center!
Some quotes which stood out for me
During the video there were some quotes which really stood out for me. Here is the Top 5:
- Cloud is not a location. It’s a MODEL.
- MAS isn’t a shim layer. It uses the same SDK and tools as Microsoft Azure.
- Microsoft is a platform company.
- Azure is an open source platform.
- MAS brings the cloud to your data centers.