Microsoft is getting ready to release a second technical preview of its hybrid cloud computing platform for private data centers, the Redmond, Wash., software giant announced this week. Select customers are being invited to download the software now, ahead of a broader release later this year.
In May 2015, during the inaugural Ignite conference, Microsoft made the surprising announcement that it was working on software that would effectively enable its customers to run a little piece of the Azure cloud in their own data centers. Dubbed Azure Stack, the server software includes many of the same core services and management experiences that underpin many of the company's own Azure public cloud offerings for businesses.
In late January, Microsoft finally released the first Azure Stack technical preview. Requiring a 12-core dual-socket processor, 96GB of RAM and four 140GB hard drives (at minimum), the software gave early adopters the chance to see Microsoft's hybrid cloud application and services vision for enterprises in action. Soon after, Microsoft added platform-as-a-service (PaaS) components and DevOps tools to help expedite cloud application development efforts.
To deploy their own Azure environments, all customers would need to do was furnish their own server hardware and ensure that it was up to the task. Or so it seemed at first.
In June, Microsoft announced that when Azure Stack is finally released in mid-2017, it will only be available as preintegrated hardware and software bundles from select partners.
Mike Neil, corporate vice president of Microsoft's Enterprise Cloud, said in a July 12 announcement that his company planned to "prioritize delivering Azure Stack as turnkey integrated systems in the initial general availability (GA) release, combining software, hardware, support and services in one solution. As we do this, we will leverage our deep experience in both cloud and enterprise datacenter environments to optimize the customer experience."
Acknowledging that move had raised concerns about cost, flexibility and other factors concerning the integrated systems model, Microsoft published a video interview with Vijay Tewari, a principal group program manager in charge of Azure Stack's infrastructure management software. Asked what he would tell customers that were perhaps looking forward to running Azure Stack on their existing and perfectly usable IT hardware, he said that in essence, the project is largely uncharted territory for the company and Microsoft is taking a diligent approach.
"I think the first thing we have to help customers realize [is] that Azure Stack is a new product, it is not a conglomeration of existing products as we have seen in the past," offered Tewari. "It is a brand new product and along with it comes a responsibility that Microsoft has to keep the operational lifecycle of that product valid for customers."
In short, Microsoft is making sure that when Azure Stack ships on systems from Dell, HPE and Lenovo next year, its various moving parts will work as the company intended. But that doesn't preclude a more open Azure ecosystem sometime in the future.
"One point worth reemphasizing is the prioritization of integrated systems from Dell, HPE, and Lenovo, as a starting point," Microsoft stated in an Aug. 11 announcement. "As we have done in other cases in the past, we will continue to broaden our support for a diverse hardware ecosystem that allows customer choice and configuration from a certified catalog of solutions."