What is Azure Stack HCI?

What is Azure Stack HCI?

Azure Stack HCI is a virtualized workload solution from Microsoft that allows businesses to run Windows and Linux apps and services in a hybrid on-premise/cloud environment. Built on top of Windows Server, Azure Stack HCI is an example of hyper-converged infrastructure (HCI). This technology virtualizes conventionally hardware-defined systems like storage and networking to create flexible, efficient infrastructure solutions.

The key features of Azure Stack HCI

Azure Stack HCI offers all the standard features of HCI solutions. First and foremost is support for virtualization technologies like Hyper-V, which allows running multiple virtual machines on a single physical server. Software-defined networking and storage allow sysadmins to set up common infrastructure components programmatically.

Security, scalability, and management are all greatly simplified with HCI technologies. But its hybrid cloud functionality makes Azure Stack HCI stand out from the crowd. With built-in integration to Microsoft’s Azure cloud service, organizations can take an easy first step away from on-premise, hardware-defined infrastructure, and move toward a modern cloud-based environment.

How Azure Stack HCI works in cloud computing

The hybrid cloud approach means businesses investing in on-premise hardware can migrate into the cloud on their own terms and timelines. This is thanks to seamless integration with Azure services like Azure AD (Active Directory), Azure Monitor, Azure Backup, and more.

This integration ensures a consistent experience across on-premise and cloud infrastructures. Administrators use the same management tools across all of their services. As a result, Azure Stack HCI is one of the fastest ways to get up and running with cloud computing.

It also means there can be significant cost savings going with Azure Stack HCI over making a hard switch from on-premise hardware to the cloud. Existing servers or commodity hardware can be used at implementation time, and the organization can gradually move to cost-effective cloud solutions.

Beyond these benefits, Azure Stack HCI offers robust security features. Virtual machine encryption and network micro-segmentation are easily achieved with hyper-converged infrastructure. Compared to implementing the same functionality in hardware, HCI solutions are more easily managed and cost-effective.

How does Azure Stack HCI work?

Azure Stack HCI works by combining the functionality of traditional hardware elements (computing, storage, networking) into a single HCI solution with virtualization. This means, on a practical level, that all of these components are administered with Windows Admin Center.

Windows Admins Center is a web-based management console for managing a complete IT infrastructure. Since components like networking and storage are virtualized in an HCI environment, it’s much faster and less expensive to get up and running compared to the old ways of doing things—buying hardware, installing it, and maintaining it.

So if an IT administrator would like to deploy a new instance of Microsoft SQL Server, creating a new virtual machine using storage from the Azure cloud is effortless. Similarly, a Docker application can be quickly deployed in a new Linux instance.

The tight integration with other Azure services simplifies the setup of other critical components, like authentication against Azure AD and defining network topology. With all the essential tasks of managing an IT environment available at a sysadmin’s fingertips, an organization is empowered to deploy new solutions rapidly.

Azure Stack HCI management and deployment options

While Windows Admins Center greatly simplifies IT deployments, Azure Stack HCI also offers other flexible management options. Depending on a particular company’s existing cloud footprint and the abilities of its sysadmins, some of the other management and deployment options might be a better fit.

For example, organizations already using some Azure cloud services can use Azure Portal to manage their Azure Stack HCI components. Administrators experienced with Microsoft’s PowerShell can also use that environment to create programmatically and script deployment and management tasks. 

Azure Stack HCI supports a specialized form of scripts known as Deployment Scripts, which provide advanced deployment automation options. This can be especially handy for larger organizations that will be scaling their Azure Stack HCI footprint faster.

Companies with an investment in virtualization solutions can also utilize some of their pre-existing tools. This includes VMWare Center and System Center. The ability to use the tools that administrators are already familiar with is another reason that Azure Stack HCI can be a cost-effective way to migrate an organization’s infrastructure into the cloud.

Use cases for Azure Stack HCI

In addition to the ability to quickly roll out IT infrastructure and applications, Azure Stack HCI has an almost unlimited number of use cases.

Azure Stack HCI can be used to create private clouds that offer a company the benefits of cloud computing with the security of on-premise installations. It can also be used to create a high-performance computing cluster for demanding scientific and engineering applications by quickly creating virtual clusters.

Adding remote offices to a corporate network with Azure Stack HCI is also easy. Using the Azure cloud as a bridge, remote workers can have the same experience as being on a corporate network, thanks to Azure Stack HCI’s virtualized networking solutions.

Azure Stack HCI is also well-suited to creating a DevOps environment for modern application development, testing, and deployment. New apps and services can be quickly deployed, automating testing and debugging processes.