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Azure Stack growing pains could weigh on enterprise appeal

Microsoft's hybrid cloud platform continues to pique the interest of enterprise IT shops but still lacks the maturity and breadth of the Azure public cloud.

As it tries to carve out an existence inside enterprises' data centers, Azure Stack is unlike any other cloud offering in Microsoft's portfolio. And while its unique model appeals to some organizations -- especially big Microsoft shops -- the technology isn't without its challenges.

Overall, Azure Stack's hybrid approach makes it stand out in the market, said Edwin Yuen, analyst at Enterprise Strategy Group and former member of the Azure team. The technology essentially extends Azure to customers' own data centers, with the aim of simplifying both hybrid cloud management and application development.

"It is particularly good for people with data sovereignty issues who need an on-premises option," Yuen said.

Azure Stack's highly scalable services enable an enterprise to deploy applications, including modern, microservices-based apps, to the cloud more seamlessly, said Brad Orluk, enterprise solution architect at Nintex, a workflow automation service provider and a Microsoft partner.

The technology appeals especially to customers with legacy integration needs and strict regulatory requirements, Orluk said. It also helps reduce the infrastructure and management overhead that comes with hybrid cloud.

Limitations and challenges loom

Still, Azure Stack deployment presents some challenges, and the platform won't appeal to all.

Its backup and recovery capabilities, for example -- as well as its monitoring features -- are still somewhat immature compared to other Microsoft products, Yuen said. "It isn't yet like the breadth of Windows or the breadth of Azure as a whole."

Azure Stack competition

While Azure Stack doesn't face a ton of direct competition, it's certainly not alone in the hybrid cloud market either.

For example, Google recently introduced GKE On-Prem, a service that lets enterprises run Google Kubernetes Engine in their own data centers and centrally manage Kubernetes clusters across both on-premises environments and the cloud.

Oracle Cloud at Customer and IBM Bluemix Local also follow a similar model to Azure Stack and aim to reduce the management and development complexities that come with hybrid cloud. VMware Cloud on AWS is another potential alternative.

But perhaps the biggest hurdle to Azure Stack deployment is its operating model, Yuen added. Enterprises first need to purchase the hardware from one of Microsoft's Azure Stack partners -- which include Lenovo, Hewlett Packard Enterprise, Cisco, Dell EMC and Huawei -- and then continue to pay for the software and services they use after installation.

[Azure Stack] isn't yet like the breadth of Windows or the breadth of Azure as a whole.
Edwin YuenAnalyst, Enterprise Strategy Group

"The fact that you must go ahead and pay for the consumption of services after you have paid to install it can be a bit of a shock to those who don't understand the model," he said.

However, for those enterprises that fully grasp that model before they commit to Azure Stack -- and know they can effectively implement chargeback -- that operating model is less of a concern, Yuen added.

Azure Stack evolves

Enterprises that are wary of Azure Stack's current limitations but are interested in the technology should follow it closely as it continues to evolve.

Microsoft, for example, is expanding Visual Studio Team Services to support CI/CD with Azure Stack, said Glenn Lochen, vice president of client delivery for cloud technology services at CompuCom, an IT services provider and Microsoft partner.

Likewise, Lochen said, Azure Stack now supports availability sets across multiple fault domains, which ensures high availability for workloads and helps protect against outages. Another recent feature enables users to make URL-to-URL copies to facilitate the movement of data between Azure Stack and the Azure public cloud -- a feature that's especially useful for hybrid apps.

Microsoft also offers a free, single-server trial of Azure Stack, said Rob Corradini, director of product management at 5nine, a company that provides a hybrid cloud management platform for Hyper-V and Azure. For enterprises on the fence, this is a good option to experiment with the technology.

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