100 Days of Cloud – Day 95: Azure Stack Edge, HCI and HUB

Its Day 95 of my 100 Days of Cloud journey and in todays post we’ll take a quick look at Azure Stack range of offerings, the differences between them and their capabilities.

Azure Stack HCI

I’m starting with Azure Stack HCI as its the one that going to be most familiar to anyone like me who’s coming from the on-premises Hyper-V and Failover Cluster world.

Azure Stack HCI is a hyperconvered infrastructure cluster solution that sits in your on-premises infrastructure. It hosts virtualized Windows and Linux workloads and their storage and networking in a hybrid environment that is registered with your Azure Tenant.

Azure Stack HCI has its own dedicated operating system, and you can run this on integrated systems from a Microsoft hardware partner with the Azure Stack HCI operating system pre-installed, or buy validated nodes from an approved manufacturer list and install the operating system yourself.

The Azure Stack HCI operating system contains built in Hyper-V, Storage Spaces Direct and Software-Defined Networking. This means the configuration is minimal and you are pretty much ready to go in getting your Clusters ready. A Azure Stack HCI Cluster can contain between 2 and 16 physical servers.

Image Credit – Microsoft

So its basically a traditional Hyper-V Failover Cluster with a new name, right? Wrong, its much more than that. Because it ships from Azure, the billing for your nodes and usage come as part of your Azure Subscription charges. You are also required to register your Azure Stack HCI cluster with Azure within 30 days of installation. This can be done by using Windows Admin Center or Azure PowerShell modules.

Why Azure Stack HCI?

There are lots of great reasons for choosing Azure Stack HCI:

  • Familiar tools and skillset for exsiting Hyper-V and server admins
  • Integration with existing tools such as Microsoft System Center, Active Directory, Group Policy, and PowerShell scripting.
  • Integration with majoriy of mainstream backup, security, and monitoring tools.
  • Wide range of vendor hardware choices allow customers to choose the vendor with the best service and support in their geography.
  • You get full integration with Azure Arc for managing your workloads centrally from Azure alongside other Azure services.

Use Cases

  • Branch office and edge – for branch office and edge workloads, you can minimize infrastructure costs by deploying two-node clusters with inexpensive witness options, such as Cloud Witness or a USB drive–based file share witness.
  • Virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI) – Azure Stack HCI clusters are well suited for large-scale VDI deployments with RDS or equivalent third-party offerings as the virtual desktop broker.
  • Highly performant SQL Server – Azure Stack HCI provides an additional layer of resiliency to highly available, mission-critical Always On availability groups-based deployments of SQL Server.
  • Trusted enterprise virtualization – Azure Stack HCI satisfies the trusted enterprise virtualization requirements through its built-in support for Virtualization-based Security (VBS).
  • Azure Kubernetes Service (AKS) – You can leverage Azure Stack HCI to host container-based deployments, which increases workload density and resource usage efficiency.
  • Scale-out storage – Using Storage Spaces Direct results in significant cost reductions compared with competing offers based on storage area network (SAN) or network-attached storage (NAS) technologies.
  • Disaster recovery for virtualized workloads- Stretched clustering provides automatic failover of virtualized workloads to a secondary site following a primary site failure. Synchronous replication ensures crash consistency of VM disks.
  • Data center consolidation and modernization – Refreshing and consolidating aging virtualization hosts with Azure Stack HCI can improve scalability and make your environment easier to manage and secure. It’s also an opportunity to retire legacy SAN storage to reduce footprint and total cost of ownership.
  • Run Azure services on-premises – Integration with Azure Arc allows you to run Azure services anywhere. This allows you to build consistent hybrid and multicloud application architectures by using Azure services that can run in Azure, on-premises, at the edge, or at other cloud providers.

Azure Stack Hub

Azure Stack Hub is similar to Azure stack HCI in that you install a cluster of between 4-16 physical servers from an approved Microsoft vendor hardware list in your on-premises environment. However, Azure Stack Hub is essentially an extension of the full Azure platform that brings the following services:

  • Azure VMs for Windows and Linux
  • Azure Web Apps and Functions
  • Azure Key Vault
  • Azure Resource Manager
  • Azure Marketplace
  • Containers
  • Admin tools (Plans, offers, RBAC, and so on)

All looks very familiar, but here’s where it gets interesting – Azure Stack Hub is used to provide Azure consistent services to an on-premises environment that is either connected to the internet (and Azure) or disconnected environments with no internet connectivity. When we look at the comparison below, we can see that while Azure Stack Hub contains all of the features offered by Azure Stack HCI, it also includes a full set of IaaS, PaaS and cloud platform admin tools:

Image Credit – Microsoft

The PaaS offering is optional because Azure Stack Hub isn’t operated by Microsoft, its operated by you when you deploy Azure Stack Hub in your environment. So lets say for example if you are a small MSP, you can use Azure Stack Hub to host a multi-tenant environment that services your own customers with a PaaS offering which abstracting away the underlying infrastructure and processes. These are some of the PaaS services you can offer:

  • App Service
  • SQL databases
  • MySQL databases
  • Service Fabric
  • Kubernetes Container Service
  • Ethereum Blockchain
  • Cloud Foundry

Azure Stack Edge

The last member of the family is Azure Stack Edge. This is a family of Azure -managed appliances and was originally a Data Box solution for importing data into Azure. It acted as a network storage gateway to performs high-speed transfers to Azure.

Now, Azure Stack Edge is used as a AI-enabled device that can be used on remote locations to enable data analytics and create machine learning models that can be integrated with Azure Machine Learning. The data all stays locally cached on the device in order for you to create and train your ML modelling before uploading the data to your Azure Subscription.

Image Credit – Neal Analytics

You can also use the full capabilities of VM and Containerized Compute workloads on these devices, and can run a maximum of 2 devices as a 2-node cluster with a Scale out file server option.

Conclusion

So thats a brief overview of the Azure Stack portfolio and some of the benefits it can bring to your on-premises and edge computing environments. You can find full details and documentation at the links below:

Hope you enjoyed this post, until next time!

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