Azure Stack Brings Microsoft's Cloud Outside Microsoft Data Centers

If cloud is a model and not a place, then the promise of Microsoft’s Azure Stack is that you should be able to have that model anywhere, be it a Microsoft data center or your own facility. And it doesn’t necessarily have to be a data center.

Applications for the on-premises version of the world’s second most popular enterprise cloud (Amazon Web Services is the market leader) are expanding well beyond the initial goal of simply providing on premises the same applications and services that are available in Azure. Vendors like the Swiss industrial automation giant ABB, the French oilfield services multinational Schlumberger, and the San Francisco-based enterprise software company Pivotal are bringing platform solutions to Azure Stack. They run as a mix of on-prem and public cloud services, and in some verticals the on-prem portion is playing a bigger and bigger role.

This is especially true in “industrial Internet of Things” applications, where the likes of ABB and GE collect data from sensors on their equipment and analyze it to help with things like predictive maintenance and capacity planning. Often, for performance and/or security reasons, the compute gear that does the analytics is placed directly on oil rigs, power plants, factory floors, in mines, and so on. Sometimes it’s connected to the cloud, and sometimes it isn’t.

“The message from our customers was, ‘We will only start this journey with you if you can put all the infrastructure we need on our premises, isolated from the internet, so we can be assured of security, of governance, of adequate latency for decision making,’” Ciaran Flanagan, group VP and head of ABB's Global Datacenter business, said. He predicted that for industrial IoT, between 60 percent and 70 percent of processing, transactions, and data management is going to happen at the edge.

Industry verticals Azure Stack appeals to include oil and gas, manufacturing, retail, healthcare, and government, Natalia Mackevicius, director of program management for Azure Stack, told us. “We’re looking at military and defense, where they often need to be fully air-gapped, or disconnected, but they want to use same type of app development as in the cloud.”

Some customers want a hybrid cloud strategy for unified application development, with the same code running in their data center as in the public cloud. Others have data sovereignty or regulatory requirements that make it hard to use public cloud. Yet others want it for locations where public cloud is inaccessible, or where unreliable connectivity or network latency makes cloud unfeasible.

Especially in financial services, some organizations want to modernize legacy apps and apps inherited through acquisitions without using public cloud, she noted. “If they have a mainframe Oracle or SAP environment, that’s the system of record for the organization that they can't easily migrate. They want to bring the cloud application model to that location and start modernizing the application that way.”

That kind of software refresh is why Pivotal is bringing its Cloud Foundry application platform to Azure Stack, Richard Seroter, Pivotal’s director of product, told us. “Companies need to add more agility. If you can make your on-premises team operate in an agile, on-demand manner, location doesn’t matter as much. Azure Stack makes a lot of sense, because you get the actual same user experience and paradigms on premises and in the cloud; that’s not something AWS or Google or VMware can do.”

Coming from someone working for a company closely associated with VMware, that statement is telling. Pivotal was spun out of VMware and its parent company EMC in 2013 and was for several years run by VMware’s former CEO Paul Maritz. The company that’s now called Dell Technologies still lists both VMware and Pivotal as its subsidiaries following the merger between Dell and EMC. VMware and Pivotal also have a partnership with Google Cloud Platform, providing an enterprise-friendly version of the open source container orchestration platform Kubernetes as a service.

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