Azure Stack IaaS – When to Bet the Farm on It

I sat down with a customer and one of Microsoft’s Azure Stack program managers at Microsoft’s yearly partner conference (Inspire). The Microsoft PM said something that you will hear over and over from Microsoft, as well as anyone “in the know” about Azure Stack:

“Azure Stack is not a virtual machine dispenser.”

By which he meant that Azure Stack is not really intended to be used primarily for Infrastructure as a Service. What did he mean by that? Doesn’t he want to sell Azure Stack? How broken must Azure Stack’s IaaS offering be in order to cause someone employed by Microsoft to discourage its use? The quick answer: There’s nothing wrong with Azure Stack’s IaaS component. It’s not broken. You can get a wide variety of virtual machines out of Azure Stack, and you can manage them via the web portal or call them up via the well-known Azure Resource Manager API. That aspect of it (using the Azure APIs to provision and manage virtual machines) is actually tremendously cool.

What we (and Microsoft) really mean here is that if all you’re doing is IaaS, you have no strategic necessity for that IaaS to be consistent with public Azure, and you have no plans to leverage the rich PaaS offerings in Azure Stack, then there are probably more efficient options out there today. Like a diesel F350 in New York City- it’ll get you where you’re going, but there are better choices out there for every-day drivers in Manhattan.

To break this down a bit, consider the following:

  • The IaaS market is robust.  People have been engineered IaaS offerings using VxRail, Nutanix, Simplivity, and others. Roll your own architectures abound across the industry, including Dell EMC’s ready bundles.  There’s no shortage of options if all you want are virtual machines, and don’t want to leverage Azure services.
  • These IaaS offerings are feature rich and mature. A functional comparison of offerings in market will uncover features that enterprises come to expect like infrastructure-level replication with automated failover, snapshots, tightly integrated tenant backup, quality of service controls, tunable parameters for performance and capacity, to name a few.  Azure Stack’s IaaS offering will be reliable, but less robust in terms of enterprise features.  You will be able to achieve some of that functionality with Azure Stack through guest-level integrations, and some of the vendors (included Dell EMC) are working hard to add these enterprise features to Azure Stack, but they won’t be there at GA.
  • Pure-play IaaS is available at a lower price point than Azure Stack. A customer can get started with a 4 node IaaS stack using one of these solutions for well under $100k street price. Azure Stack is close, but with the integrated networking inherent in Azure Stack, it will take some time to meet those price points.

To reiterate, there’s nothing wrong with the Azure Stack IaaS.  If you understand the design criteria for Azure Stack, then by all means you are set up to enjoy your experience.  IaaS is just not the end game.

Then, what is the end game?  Why should customers be looking at the Dell EMC Azure Stack.  To sum it up:

  1. Azure Stack is the only way to deliver Azure-consistent services on-premises. And in fact, if your strategy includes Azure-consistent IaaS, then Azure Stack is the way to go
  2. Dell EMC Cloud for Microsoft Azure Stack is the best way to experience Azure Stack

I’d love to hear your thoughts and questions.  Comment below – what do you think?

About the Author: Paul Galjan

Paul leads product management and engineering for the Microsoft Hybrid Cloud program at Dell EMC. He started his technical career working on a DARPA project helping develop software monitoring systems to detect clandestine nuclear tests. He moved into an infrastructure role on that project where he eventually managed a prototype data center for the monitoring framework supporting the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty. From there he joined NetApp, where he worked with the US Marine Corps, helping develop mobile information infrastructure deployable in the adverse conditions found by the Marine Expeditionary Forces during the Iraq war, and later spearheading NetApp’s entry into the Navy-Marine Corps Intranet. After moving to New England, he joined EMC, where he supported Mid-Market Commercial as a Microsoft Specialist, and then managing the application specialists for Mid-Market before taking the role of Global Functional Lead for Microsoft, which he held for the three years prior to his current role.