Microsoft: Azure Stack Is The “Holy Grail” Of Cloud Environments

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TechWeekEurope quizzes Microsoft’s Chris Van Wesep on the company’s latest Azure game plan

One of Microsoft’s big announcements at last month’s Ignite conference was Azure Stack, a cloud infrastructure product that will let businesses inject Azure IaaS and PaaS directly into their own data centres.

“This announcement had people falling out of their chairs,” Microsoft’s cloud spin doctor Chris Van Wesep told TechWeekEurope.

Use public cloud services in a private cloud

Azure stack effectively extends the Azure model of app development and deployment into a private data centre, meaning customers can use the benefits of Azure’s public cloud services in a private cloud. It’s due to be released in 2016, alongside Windows Server 2016.

Wesep said that importance of this release, and what it means for Microsoft, was clear to see just by how much Microsoft chief Satya Nadella touched upon it at his Ignite keynote. “Satya gave an unfair share of his time to talk about this part of the business, so that’s pretty cool,” shrugged Wesep.

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Chris Van Wesep

TechWeekEurope sat down with Wesep at Microsoft’s London HQ to talk about the Azure Stack release.

Why did Microsoft feel the need to release Azure Stack?

Through all the conversations that we have with customers, as excited as they are about moving to a cloud computing model, and say that they like the notion of cloud computing and the benefits it can bring, and they like the stuff we’re doing with Azure, they really like the notion of doing portions of this in their data centre.

So they want to get a hybrid setup, doing some work in their own data centre and ours. Having that flexibility between the two environments is kind of the holy grail and what most people are looking for.

So that’s what we’re really looking to bring with Microsoft Azure stack, This is not about providing people with a similar experience with what happened in Azure, it’s the same experience.

Now when people and developers go to create an application they’re creating in in one way, agnostic of where it’s going to run. At run time, they can decide to put it wherever they like, and move it to different places later. It’s exactly the same file format. So the amount of flexibility it’s giving people is absolutely huge. That’s why when people saw it demonstrated live on the keynote jaws hit the floor. It’s a very complicated, technical thing to do, but when people saw it they thought “that’s what I need”.

azureIs Azure Stack the direct result of increased pressure from private cloud and enterprise rivals?

Ever since we started this whole initiative three to four years ago, our mantra has been about having a three cloud solution, and really, primarily giving customers the choice and flexibility about where they want to run applications on their business. It’s presumptuous to tell people that the only way forward is to put things here or to put things there. Most customers we talk to say they want to have some things in our cloud, some things in their own data centre, and they may want to use a local service provider somewhere for data sovereignty issues. So if we can give them the flexibility to do those three things – that would really be the winning solution.

Are you trying to make Azure ubiquitous?

The way I think about it, when Windows Server first really started coming on the scene, the reason why it grew to be such a large portion of the install base was that it made a promise to people. “Look,” we said.  “You write your application to this platform, and we’ve done all the work on the back end to make sure you can work with different hardware vendors.” We can guarantee it will work in a bunch of different places, it will run on a HP machine, on a Dell machine, it will work. That ubiquity is one of the bigger things that Microsoft has done well over the years. We’ve developed an ecosystem that just works for a lot of people. Azure Stack and this way forward is really that same type of promise but in the cloud era. It’s doing that same thing that the Windows operating system did in isolation, but thinks about the whole thing regardless of which cloud environment.

azureWhat does it mean for the general direction and strategy of Microsoft for the next few years?

This is the evolution of what we’ve been doing. It’s taking us a major step forward in actually delivering on what we’ve been talking about with customers. We’ve been giving them consistent experiences in multiple locations, we’ve given them a similar look and feel in the past, that’s what Azure Pack was really all about – if you like the experiences you get in Azure but you want them in your data centre here’s a set of technologies that sit on top of Windows Server and it’ll give you a very similar experience. That was Azure Pack, and it works well for people that want a nice private cloud on demand way of getting virtual machines.

What people were then saying is that they wanted something that can take a multi-tier complex app and  run it in a dev test environment in one location, put it in production in the next location, and it’ll work. It starts building on an ecosystem that actually becomes quite huge in a not too short period of time. That’s where we going.

How does it place Azure amongst rivals such as VMware, which already offers functionality between on-premises and vCloud Air?

I think the thing that we have, the thing that’s quite differentiated from their offering, is the fact that we have Azure public cloud and the fact that we’ve been investing billions of dollars to build out that infrastructure. We’ve got 19 different regions now with multiple data centres in each region, and making available a multitude of PaaS services as opposed to where most of the tech VMWare focused on is how they do IaaS and offer virtual machines. We’re fairly convinced that the future of modern applications is abstracted at a level higher than IaaS capacity and going more with PaaS services.

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