Microsoft today announced a technical preview of Azure Stack. Azure Stack allows an organization to install its own private version of the publicly available Microsoft Azure cloud platform. As with the public cloud offering, Azure Stack offers both infrastructure- and platform-level functionality. As such, Azure Stack can be thought of as a combination or a competitor to both OpenStack and Cloud Foundry.
The real benefit that Azure Stack brings to organizations with an existing Microsoft footprint is that there is no incongruence between their public and private cloud utilization. Where an organization that, for example, takes advantage of Amazon Web Services (AWS) for the public cloud and builds a private cloud on OpenStack might have difficulties in the interplay between its public and private resources, with Azure Stack there is a high fidelity between the public and private offerings.
As such, a workload running in-house on Azure Stack can seamlessly become a workload running on the Azure public cloud.
As mentioned, this is an entirely pragmatic approach and one which reflects the reality for many existing organizations. While cloud thought leaders have long held up an organization like Netflix as the future with its "100% cloud" approach, the reality is that it is very difficult for an organization with an existing IT footprint to simply lift everything and move it to the public cloud. For every Netflix, Airbnb or Uber, there are countless traditional organizations that have an existing IT footprint and that need to think about a move to the cloud within that context. Azure Stack is, perhaps, the most natural place for them to make that journey.
Interestingly enough, when OpenStack, the open source cloud computing operating system created by Rackspace and NASA, was first mooted, it had a similar value proposition. It too talked about this opportunity. The thought was that organizations could use an OpenStack cloud for their on-premises needs and could also leverage a public cloud built on top of OpenStack. Indeed, HP's defunct and, dare I say, debacle of public cloud, Helion, was built on top of OpenStack.
The reality for OpenStack as a hybrid cloud play, however, hasn't been what was envisaged. The project, while very successful in a number of areas, hasn't really seen the rise of a consistent series of vendor offerings. This means that, although OpenStack is touted as a consistent platform between different distributions, every distribution is a different flavor, thus limiting the portability between different OpenStack-powered clouds.
Eucalyptus, the open-source private cloud offering that was built very much as a clone of the AWS way of operating, was perhaps the closest thing to an AWS hybrid at the time. Unfortunately, Eucalyptus was acquired by HP, another depressing failure of an acquisition that never bore the fruit that many people thought it could.
Which brings us back to Azure and, more particularly, Azure Stack. I'm very bullish about what Microsoft is doing given that it is both leveraging an existing user base and giving that user base a pragmatic and practical way of moving into the future.
Microsoft has, it should be said, launched a similar kind of offering in the past which never really got traction. the issue there wasn't really with the quality of the offering but rather with the channel used to commercialize it.
By opening Azure Stack to all-comers, Microsoft should avoid those issues. It's going to be interesting to see where Azure Stack goes, but I'm pretty confident it's going to be a big part of the hybrid cloud going forward.
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