From Hyperscale to Open Options: Preparing for Hybrid Cloud with Microsoft Azure Stack

Microsoft Azure StackFollowing the recent announcement of our Azure Stack Beta program, we spoke with Leaseweb’s Technical Evangelist Robert van der Meulen about how Azure Stack will usher in a new era in hybrid cloud computing. Today’s cloud adopters will see many benefits by developing a hybrid cloud strategy that combines the features of both open cloud providers like Leaseweb and hyperscalers like Microsoft’s Azure.

Why is Leaseweb offering Azure Stack Beta (ASDK) and what is the demand from customers like?

It helps IT teams to experience in practice what kind of services Azure Stack brings, and how they fit in their existing and planned landscapes. Particularly it shows how public cloud-like services can be available in the trusted environment of a private cloud, or hosted data center. Azure Stack addresses the market for private cloud services with public cloud capabilities. The ASDK opens that environment up without the large up-front investment, and gives IT teams the capability to validate that their solution will work in a private Azure Stack setup.

What are some of the use cases for Azure Stack in a third-party cloud compared with the Azure public cloud? What are some advantages?

Particular and obvious examples are the privacy and data residency features: we guarantee all data is available in a very specific data center, in a very specific country. We will not move data out, and the residency of data is guaranteed. Next to that, there’s possibilities to combine Azure Stack – not yet in the ASDK – with other infrastructure. If, for example, customer wants to build a solution including a number of big data appliances as well as a scalable software layer on top, this is only possible in a public cloud by getting all of that capacity in that public cloud.

This can, particularly in the case of big data applications or other apps that have a high demand on infrastructure performance, become cost-prohibitive quite quickly. We can then offer bare metal servers for the big data parts, and introduce a flexible cloud layer that scales along with application growth. This is a much more cost-effective solution, whilst still profiting from the private character of a hosted stack solution.

From network perspective you can keep your data in the same spot and don’t need to transfer it over the public internet. The ability to do backup, disaster recovery and synchronisation are the same as for a public cloud. We can’t customise that environment, which has limitations. The cost angle is a big one for backup and disaster recovery. On our cloud you don’t have to pay data transfer charges public clouds typically charge. You can keep backups in the same data centre and even if you move to another Leaseweb data center it will still be cheaper. It will also be faster.

More control over data is an advantage as you typically don’t have this in a public data center. With Azure Stack by Leaseweb data won’t leave the Netherlands or even the greater Amsterdam area. In the long run will be possible to rent a private cage and have Azure Stack in a physically isolated environment.

This offering is unique among the handful of “hyperscale” virtualised clouds, does this make it a strategic advantage for Microsoft and now partners like Leaseweb?

It certainly does. Microsoft’s strategy is to work more with partners like Leaseweb to grow their cloud ecosystem, and Leaseweb’s strategy is to grow more in the “technology agnostic”, hybrid cloud landscape. This means we have a strong motivation to offer Microsoft-based cloud services next to the other services we already have, and we will continue to invest in our platform, adding technologies that add to the hybrid mix, offering choice to our customers.

How does the security of co-located Azure services compared with the Azure cloud?

It’s a good question. We offer a wide range of audited certifications, including PCI compliance, that show how secure our data centers and setups are, and we are quite open about the fact that we only work with qualified personnel. We have many years of experience running platforms for demanding customers that require very secure environments, and our Azure Stack offerings follow the same principles. For customers who have high security and privacy demands, we can customise setups further, and will even be delivering fully private single tenant Azure Stack environments. These kinds of options are simply impossible in public cloud environments and they reserve the right to move your data to a different region if they like.

Open data centers provide a bunch of advantages over hyperscale clouds. Things like fine-grained controls over data protection and disaster recovery and you can still do replication at the API level when dealing with clouds and applications that don’t allow system-level access.

What data location controls will exist with Leaseweb’s Azure Stack and ASDK services? What can we expect to see around Leaseweb’s global network?

ASDK is launching in the Netherlands initially and we can expect to see it be expanded throughout our global network. That being the case, we are welcoming global customers who want to host their Azure Stack development in the Netherlands. So you don’t need to be based in the Netherlands to take advantage of our offer.

How does ASDK prepare IT teams for a hybrid cloud future?

There are two hybrid models. The hybrid model that Microsoft pitches is a combination of Microsoft technology in hosted data centers and its public cloud. ASDK prepares customers to run workloads in a mixed environment, which is nice as you can do baseload jobs with us and peak with a public cloud. Leaseweb’s hybrid definition involves migrating infrastructure into our data center so you can move to co-location or dedicated servers and combine it with modern Azure Stack infrastructure or any on-premises equipment.

Customers interested in working with nearby bare metal, VPSs or network applications like firewalls will be doing software development and are more technical and we provide APIs for this. If you are used to Microsoft orchestration tools on its public cloud you can use them for a Leaseweb end point and redeploy on our platform.

What opportunities are there for integration between Azure Stack and other cloud orchestration tools like CloudStack and OpenStack?

First, the ability to be able to use the same tools on your private cloud infrastructure as public cloud and we have a unique ability to combine these technologies within a single environment. PaaS can be on one stack and IaaS on another platform (e.g. Cloudstack, VMWare). Next, the ability to combine products for consistent orchestration experience, we will offer customers the ability to develop and test on a public cloud and deploy on private cloud in Leaseweb data centre for proximity and privacy, residency and security. There will be API compatibility between our platform and the Azure public cloud, but not between the Azure API and CloudStack.

How will Leaseweb manage resource and cost accounting for Azure Stack customers? How will it compare to the public Azure cloud?

Costing is problem for us because it is not clear as Microsoft has only released some provisional rates for licensing and we haven’t seen quotes from hardware vendors. We also haven’t seen the support costs and models. It is early days so the OEMs don’t know a lot, but Microsoft has said costs will comparable to that for its public cloud.

Companies will benefit from uptime guarantees with us. We will offer proper SLAs and the type of support you can’t get at public cloud. It will be more personal and there will be someone to talk to if something goes wrong. We guarantee whole bunch of things Microsoft doesn’t guarantee like network performance, response time of support and hardware replacement, which are independent of the Microsoft product.

This offering is unique among the handful of “hyperscale” virtualised clouds, does this make it a strategic advantage for Microsoft and now partners like Leaseweb?

Azure Stack is an appliance with a limited number of configuration options and we are selling network, data center space, location control, hybrid options and the commercial engagement. Google and AWS don’t have equivalents yet so it is still unique as it is the only product that can do IaaS and PaaS workloads compatible with one of the three hyperscalers.

Microsoft’s strategy is to leverage data centers they don’t own and this will help the Azure ecosystem grow. There will also be on-premises installations of Azure Stack. Microsoft is taking the opposite approach to VMware, which attempted to shift on-premises infrastructure to cloud. The approach of looking at the public cloud and extending it to on-premises and public data centers is very smart. AWS is doing it with VMware and Google is doing it with Nutanix, but none have the same single API.

How much access and support will Leaseweb MSPs get for Azure Stack and what will attract them to this option?

MSPs can take advantage of our Azure Stack and offer service to their customers as they would with our other products. We will continue to support and develop our MSP ecosystem.

Does Leaseweb’s Azure Stack uses Azure Active Directory (AAD) or Active Directory Federation Services (AD FS) as its identity provider? Why this option?

We will probably have both. We need to decide if and when we resell public cloud AD services, but will want to offer it in our data centers as well.

What support will you have for developers?

We are aiming at companies that develop software for SaaS applications or develop software for their ISVs or MSPs with some development support. So support for APIs and development features and hosted databases is very important and we want to appeal to the developer crowd.

Now you can develop with APIs that are common and as a company get access to more development experience with the Azure SDK and API. This will make it easier to develop and move public apps to a private environment. You can develop and deploy right from tools you are used to, from Visual Studio to Azure. This will enable developers to point to a Leaseweb data center instead of Microsoft and get the same result.


Want to try Microsoft Azure Stack Beta for yourself? Click here to request a free trial.

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