Azure Stack enables you to run Azure workloads on-premises or even within a colocation facility, enabling stronger security and control over your data and applications with a single management platform for your public Azure cloud infrastructure and your Azure Stack deployment.
You can use many of the best Azure tools, processes, and features — including add-ons and open source solutions from the Azure Marketplace — in the cloud of your choice, helping to meet regulatory or technical challenges.
Before you get started with this intriguing hybrid and private cloud technology from Microsoft, there are a few things you’ll need to keep in mind, however. Here are some of the most important.
Azure Stack is offered as an integrated hardware and software package, with the Azure platform pre-installed on specific hardware. Whether you choose a service provider or your own on-premises deployment of Azure stack, Microsoft-certified hardware is necessary.
Vendors include HPE, Cisco, Dell EMC, Lenovo, Huawei, and a few others. Expect to spend the same amount as you might on a rack of pretty beefy servers. Be sure to size your hardware accordingly to the workloads you plan to run on-premises vs. in the public Azure cloud. High capacity and high performance is more necessary for analytics or heavy data processing, while many standard enterprise applications could run on relatively lower end hardware.
Capacity planning is important as well. Eventually your Azure Stack hardware might reach capacity. You can then move workloads that don’t require additional security or performance controls out to the public cloud, or you can add additional hardware.
In the case of choosing a service provider for private Azure Stack clouds, you won’t need to worry about the hardware — it will all be included in your contract.
Azure Stack is billed in a similar manner to Azure public cloud, though much less expensive per-month or per-hour. That might help offset a hefty hardware investment if you go with the on-premises route, but you still must consider the consumption-based rates for Base VMs, VMs with Windows Server, Blob Storage, Tables and Queues Services, and Azure App Services. Each of these is charged by the vCPU by the minute, or by the GB.
Licensing in the cloud can be confusing, so having a third-party partner help you navigate the SQL, Windows, and other licenses you’ll need for Azure Stack could be beneficial. Otherwise, be sure to read up on how to use your existing software licenses, if possible. Generally, Stack is treated like on-premises hardware for the purposes of licensing when bringing your own license. If you are purchasing a new license, it will be based on a consumption based model that includes licensing.
Many of these costs might seem intimidating at first, but remember that one benefit of private or public cloud infrastructure is the Pay As You Go model. If you don’t anticipate regular adjustment of your VMs as you scale up and down, or if you don’t plan to use public Azure VMs alongside your Azure Stack, another virtualization model might be a better fit.
Beyond the technical specifications of your hardware and selling your CFO on how PAYG and hybrid scalability benefits the company, you need to think about the IT operations side of managing Azure Stack. If you aren’t using a service provider, do you have the staff expertise? (If you already use Azure, then you should be set.) Might you need additional staff to manage a new Azure Stack deployment? Does your workflow need to be adjusted? Do any existing network, server, power, or backup infrastructure require updates?
Azure Stack has an integrated backup feature called Infrastructure Backup Service, but it only covers restored subscriptions including role-based access permissions, roles, plans, offers, and your defined compute, storage, and network quotas. It does not back up VMs, network configuration, or storage resources, so you will need to install and configure Azure Backup Server or Azure Site Recovery for a full backup and/or DR solution.
Just like any other IT infrastructure platform, Azure Stack offers unique benefits and costs, so be sure to do your research before you start buying hardware and running production VMs. An experienced service provider partner can help guide your Azure Stack deployment to meet your standards of performance and security, while designing the roadmap to your hybrid cloud goals.