ORLANDO, Fla.—Until recently, hybrid cloud computing has been more myth than reality, an idea promoted by tech vendors threatened by Amazon Web Services.
Users only had to create a private cloud (i.e., in an on premises data center) internally and use AWS or another public cloud service and voila—they have a hybrid cloud.
But in the past few weeks the hybrid cloud landscape has changed significantly. This week at its Ignite conference, Microsoft and several hardware partners announced availability of the long awaited Azure Stack—a configurable rack of hardware bundled with the same code that runs Microsoft’s Azure public cloud.
The myth about hybrid cloud that Azure Stack has shattered is that now both clouds, internal and external, private and public, are fully interoperable—at least in the Azure world.
That follows the rollout in August of VMware Cloud on AWS, a managed service that enables on premises customers to transfer VMware instances to AWS and integrate them with all of the AWS Services. Those VMware instances are still manageable by vCenter and vRealize tools in users’ own data centers.
Both Microsoft and VMware offer users a path to the cloud. Both are closer to what a true hybrid model should look like, which would include common toolsets that can manage both cloud and on premises workloads seamlessly along with the ability to readily move workloads between the two environments.
Microsoft shots fired
Microsoft wasted no time in putting its version of next-generation hybrid clouds up against the competition.
“How many of you have heard of this VMware on AWS thing?” Microsoft Azure Chief Technology Officer Mark Russinovich asked attendees here. “This is not a hybrid play. It’s a hosted virtualization play. It’s a way to get your VMware estate up into a co-lo [co-location facility] with AWS services nearby.”
On the other hand, he said, Azure Stack is a place where users can embrace cloud “in place” and create cloud applications on premises—applications that can then be deployed internally or externally.
He cited other use cases for Azure Stack, such as storing and processing of data on the edge, and enabling companies to deploy cloud apps globally while allowing for local data sovereignty regulations.
The bigger prize, however, is digital transformation—the concept that using modern technology and the cloud will enable IT organizations to become more automated and more responsive to the business.
That transformation will not come cheaply. Dell EMC, one of the six Azure Stack hardware partners announced here, will list an entry-level system at $300,000. On top of that, Dell EMC will make available its own services including Data Domain Virtual Edition backup software, and later Pivotal Cloud Foundry’s Platform-as-a-Service software.
Other partners that are set to ship systems are Hewlett Packard Enterprise and Lenovo. Cisco, which displayed the hardware pictured above, will come later, as will systems from Chinese technology giant Huawei and Germany’s Wortmann AG.
Dell EMC’s Armughan Ahmad, Senior Vice President for Solutions and Alliances, cites other important reasons for customers to upgrade to Azure Stack and give the cloud a try—the imminent end of life for Windows Server 2008 and older versions of SQL Server. “IT organizations can’t keep up with that,” Ahmad said, “but they will have to, if they want to drive digital transformation.”
Roads to digital transformation
Sometimes the fastest route to digital transformation is a straight line. This week at the conference, Accenture announced a customer transformation in which it worked with insurance intermediary Towergate, based in London, to complete a mass migration directly to Azure.
The company’s environment consisted of 96 sites that had absorbed the IT infrastructures of more than 300 acquisitions. According to Towergate CIO Gordon Walters, “It was a big mess with large technical debt,” he said in an interview.
Towergate didn’t consider Azure Stack or any private cloud platform in its transformation. Rather than go slowly, they went for the “big bang” and ran everything in parallel. The entire migration was completed in 12 months and Towergate expects 30 percent in cost savings as a result, Walters said.
Businesses will take many roads to find digital transformation nirvana. Jeffrey Snover, Technical Fellow at Microsoft who spoke with Russinovich, told attendees what digital transformation is really all about—maximizing focus on the mission-critical parts of the business and putting fewer resources on mundane IT operations.
“Private clouds—most of them fail. For the ones that succeed, how many engineers do they have working on it?” Snover asked. “Hundreds of engineers working on something doesn’t differentiate at all. How is that going to put more people on an airplane? How does that sell more shoes?”
Scot Petersen is a technology analyst at Ziff Brothers Investments, a private investment firm. He has an extensive background in the technology field. Prior to joining Ziff Brothers, Scot was the editorial director, Business Applications & Architecture, at TechTarget. Before that, he was the director, Editorial Operations, at Ziff Davis Enterprise. While at Ziff Davis Media, he was a writer and editor at eWEEK. No investment advice is offered in his blog. All duties are disclaimed. Scot works for a private investment firm, which may at any time invest in companies whose products are discussed in this blog, and no disclosure of securities transactions will be made.