Microsoft Azure Stack vs Azure Stack HCI

Microsoft Azure Stack vs Azure Stack HCI

By Cobus Smit – Last updated 11 Oct 2019

Azure team announced a new member of the Azure Stack family called Azure Stack HCI solutions. Azure Stack HCI is a hyper-converged Windows Server 2019 cluster that uses validated hardware to run virtualized workloads on-premises. Optionally, it allows customers to connect Azure services 

Azure Stack HCI

The major components of the Azure Stack HCI are the hypervisor, the software-defined storage (SDS). Let’s have a quick look at the storage, that is a major part of Azure HCI:

Storage Spaces Direct (S2D) was released with Windows and they removed it from Server 2016 Enterprise Edition in 2017. Then again, it was included back with Windows Server 2019 Enterprise Edition. S2D is used to create a hyper-converged infrastructure where storage is shared among, and accessed from all the nodes in a HCI cluster. S2D accomplishes this by allowing creating of pools of storage, either block- or file-based using the local storage resources on each node in the HCI cluster. The storage provided by S2D can have different resilience and performance characteristics. You can look at this as their solution where vSAN is VMware’s solution and NDFS is Nutanix’s solution for SDS. Most HCI companies out there require one of these as their SDS solution.

The management software Azure Stack HCI can have connections to an array of Azure cloud services, in the likes of:

  • Azure Site Recover
  • Azure Monitor
  • Azure Backup
  • Azure Update Management
  • Azure File Sync
  • Azure network Adapter

However, these workloads remain in the Azure cloud. Also, there is no way to convert this Microsoft HCI product into an Azure Stack deployment.

Windows Server Software-Defined products still exist

Azure Stack HCI started from Microsoft’s Windows Server Software-Defined (WSSD) HCI offering. The WSSD program still exists, but the main difference on the software side is hardware in the WSSD program runs on the Windows Server 2016 OS.

WSSD HCI is like Azure Stack HCI with a foundation of vendor-specific hardware, including Windows Server technologies — Hyper-V, Storage Spaces Direct and software-defined networking — and Windows Admin Center for systems management. Azure Stack HCI expands on WSSD through improvements to Windows Server 2019 and tighter integration with Azure services.

Azure Stack

Enables cloud capabilities into your data center for companies that want to build and run cloud applications on their own hardware. Azure Stack HCI operates on the same Hyper-V-based, software-driven compute, storage and networking but have a different purpose. This new Microsoft HCI offering is a hyper-converged infrastructure product that combines vendor-specific hardware with Windows Server 2019 Datacenter edition and management tools to provide a highly integrated and optimized computing platform for local VM workloads.

Azure Stack gives users a way to use:

  • Azure VMs for Windows and Linux
  • Azure IoT
  • Azure Resource Manager
  • Azure Web Apps and Functions
  • Azure Marketplace
  • Docker containers
  • Azure Key Vault
  • Azure administrative tools locally

This functionality gives an organization the benefits of Azure cloud operation, while also satisfying regulatory requirements that require workloads to run in the data center.

A few reasons to use the Azure Stack HCI solutions in your data center.

  • Replace aging server and storage infrastructure with Azure-inspired hyper-converged solutions on Microsoft-validated hardware.
  • Merge existing server and storage workloads and reduce data-center footprint.
  • Achieve industry-leading virtual machine performance with Hyper-V and Storage Spaces Direct technology with built-in support for non-volatile memory express (NVMe), persistent memory, and remote direct memory access (RDMA) networking
  • Connect virtualized applications to Azure for cloud management and security services and start building cloud skills today.

If you want to know more why the Azure Stack HCI solutions are the right choice for you, check out the official Azure Stack HCI page or check out the Azure Stack HCI documentation page.

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